LETTERS | Sunday, 09 December 2007

Speculation and the Church

I refer to Anna Mallia’s article in MaltaToday (4 November) regarding the Curia’s attitude towards people wishing to redeem emphyteusis and to convert a temporary one to a perpetual one, as these people, it would appear, are being asked to pay more than others have.
First of all, please allow me to digress, the purpose for which will become clear later. When I was furnishing the house I had just bought in Zabbar village, I needed to buy, amongst many other things, light bulbs for the whole house. One hardware shop I contacted (not in Zabbar) quoted a price for each one of 50c more than normal – a total overcharge of Lm16.50!  I naturally went elsewhere. In subsequent conversations with others, I discovered that this particular shopkeeper had a reputation of overcharging and shortchanging his customers. I had gone past that shop many times and every time, bar once, there were no customers in it. Not long ago, it closed down. My assumption, rightly or wrongly, is that his customers, one after another, stopped giving him their hard-earned money, until the inevitable occurred.
In Malta, it appears, public relations vis-a-vis customers are generally not given much, if any, importance, and not just by shopkeepers. The Church functionaries regretfully seem to fall into this category, too.
Just prior to buying my house in Zabbar, I learnt that the local church was refurbishing its grounds. While living abroad, I had on a fairly regular basis contributed money, commensurate with my income, towards expenses of the old local church I attended. I came to Zabbar with the same intention of helping out because I am also a lover of old buildings and the church façade is a wonderful specimen.
When I moved in earlier this year, the first afternoon I was here I realised that the church bells were being rung on a very frequent basis; on top of the quarter-hour low automatic chimes, about which I had known, but thought they would stop for the night in common with some other churches situated in densely populated areas in certain other countries. The afternoon bells were not unobtrusive, but a full, loud clanging that deafened me. I thought it must have been a special occasion, so the next day I enquired discreetly from my neighbours, already fully suspecting what their answer was going to be.
You see, my first night spent here was virtually a sleepless one, unless you consider a good night’s sleep being awakened every 15 minutes by the chimes to learn that another quarter of an hour had gone by. I finally fell asleep due to sheer exhaustion, only to be awakened by another loud clanging bell at 05.50, then a deep booming one at 06.00, then again later, and again and again.
My neighbours informed me that bell ringing is endemic in Zabbar, though not as often before as now under the current parish priest. Finally in June, after a protracted agony lasting one whole week of madness under the auspices of this church functionary and his zest for useless bell ringing, I decided to write to a national newspaper to complain, thinking that some action could be taken. Instead I was ridiculed by some contributors who, it appeared from what they said, knew him well.
I will not elaborate further what has gone on since then; suffice it to say, not only was I so totally alienated by the local churchman that I resolved never to set foot in his church, but that I would not attend any other church in Malta since all churches, I have been told, indulge, to a greater or lesser extent, in bell-ringing (except maybe some situated in tourist areas, presumably so as not to upset the money-spending visitors.)
It is obvious the church hierarchy is uninterested in my personal case; as uninterested as they all have been about the many people’s protests to do with that other useless and fruitless church-linked activity, namely loud petards; irrespective of the danger they pose and the fact that they have caused some deaths too.  
It is probably safe to say without any available statistics that the church festas occasion their biggest use on the islands. I would think that the church functionaries would find it hard to disclaim any involvement, albeit indirect, as they allow them to be used during their supposedly religious feasts, which on analysis one would easily conclude it is very difficult to find any relevant connection between noise pollution of any magnitude and holiness.  
If they wanted to stop the noise, they can do so very easily. Bells and petards are not a requirement towards heavenly sainthood, and with regard to fireworks the church festas must account for the bulk of their manufacture.  All they have to do is to forbid them during their village feasts, most likely resulting in a (temporary) halt to their production. At least, this way the danger to life in those factories and surrounding areas will be removed.  It is preferable to have a few more people out of work than fatherless children or whatever else may be the case.
These noisy activities endanger people’s lives and nobody, no matter who they are, has the right to disrupt peoples’ tranquility in their homes or force them against their wish to have to leave their homes to find peace abroad, just to get away from the noise the supposedly Holy Church has inflicted on them.  
It is strange that Peter’s rock, after so many centuries, has come to the low point of being thought of as undesirable noisy neighbours.
People in a position of power over others have even less right to do as they please, if God, in his wisdom and for His own reasons, has allowed them to accede to a worldly social position above the rest of the population, when it becomes an absolute duty for them to act as role models for everyone and to teach all others the way to behave correctly, with courtesy and manners, and with genuine dignity as befits their station, in all matters at all times.  
In case people are wondering since I said that I do not attend churches in Malta, I still pray to God, in silence, in my own home. I avoid the times the bells usually ring so as not to be interrupted though I can never be sure as sometimes their discordant clanging starts up at the most irregular times.  If it happens, I just quietly excuse myself for being forced to halt my prayers, then resume later when that cacophonous nonsense has come to an end.
In case those same people are wondering; no, I have not grown a tail, horns and cloven hooves! In fact, I feel very good about it as it has opened up a channel of a deeper, more personal and more satisfying contact, which I did not seem to have had before whilst still attending church, and which I call my silver lining in this unsettling business.
I have come to the conclusion that as God is everywhere, why do I need to go to a church, much more so since He is the creator of all there is, including my home and the higher self within me and within each and every one of us… for, after all, has He not created all of us equal?
Let us go back to my original opening. I had spoken of emphytheusis, of a misguided trader, of my move to Zabbar, of my intention to contribute towards the church’s refurbishment, which, unless my eyes deceive me, has not been completed which is indeed a pity, and of the reason why I have stopped going to church.  
Needless to say, the money I had earmarked as my first donation was never donated. It would be improper for me to divulge the extent of the contribution. When people take it upon themselves to disturb, in whatever way, a community’s life they cannot tell whom they offend amongst those individuals. In my case, the sting in the tail for them is that they have missed out on my financial support. The money I can give to my former church abroad when I return to visit my friends, or to an animal charity… as animals, reading about what humans do in this world, are better behaved than humans.
It has been reported that church attendance figures are going down. Why? It has been hinted, I would say quite openly, that it is because many Maltese are now marrying foreigners.  
Ah! Those foreigners again! Always the scapegoats; to be blamed for anything we do not like. But, could it be that a slowly increasing number of people are staying away from church because they have become convinced that the people that matter in that establishment generally lack consideration for them? If and when people stay away, there is less income into the Curia’s coffers through the collection box during each mass, so in order to compensate for the money not coming in, it has to be found in other ways, especially if other people, as disenchanted as me, had themselves withheld more or less modest donations.  
Ms Mallia said, and I quote, “… land which our Catholic brothers bequeathed to the Church as a guarantee for a place in heaven…”  It seems very strange to me that people could have been “guaranteed” a place in heaven if they left some or all of their chattels to the Church!  I hope it is not true as apart from strange, an assurance of this kind is totally unfounded, and it presupposes that some men know God’s mind or have a hold over Him, and even implies that He can be bribed!  Is this not, at best, another case of extremely bad Public Relations?
It is incumbent upon the Curia to deal fairly with the property owners in their serious predicament, and not be suspected of taking advantage of them simply because they are in that unfortunate, proverbial Catch-22 situation. If the previous rules were unfair to the Curia, then, by all means, do revise them, but their revision has to be made according to independent professional valuations and be seen by all on these Islands to be fair to both sides. It would be wrong for either party not to arrive at the correct figures, with one side or the other left feeling deprived of one’s just reward.  
If the property owners feel they have not been justly treated, the rot of alienation from their church will merely lengthen and widen, and be transmitted to their descendants, as well as to other people around them who will be watching the proceedings and judging the outcome, even if they do not speak out, as it appears that not many people like to voice their opinion on some matters. It would make everything much worse if the property owners feel they have no option left open to them but to go to court and maybe ultimately to the European Court of Justice.
It is already apparent that the younger generations are more sceptical and more mentally independent than their predecessors, having access to many different ideas, other cultures and influences from all over the world. Gone are the days when people lived in isolation, unaware of what was going on and happy to accept the Church’s edicts without question, in the main because they were illiterate. The time for Church dictatorships in Westernised countries has already come to an end, and the Maltese clergy need to be aware of this or risk tarnishing their personal and professional reputations.
I should hope the church authorities will evaluate what I have said, not with closed minds dismissing it all as spite, but with serious objectivity and judge whether they could improve on their performances towards the general public upon whom they also depend for their financial existence. Everyone makes mistakes; can be wrong even for long periods of time. Never to admit this is mistaken, while admitting it and mending one’s ways shows greater maturity and good judgment.
Am I mistaken, or does Catholicism in Malta pay inadequate attention to Christ’s precious legacy? The way to Heaven must surely be more readily attained by observing the God-made deep core content of Christ’s teachings than by following mere superficial man-made outer trappings.

Alexander Cortis


Speculation and the Church

Allow me to refer to the news report entitled ‘Malta snubs Great Britain’ by Karl Schembri (‘MaltaToday’, December 2, 2007).
In view of what is alleged to have taken place in the run-up to the election of Commonwealth Secretary General, allow me to suggest that the Malta Government expel His Excellency Nick Archer (British High Commissioner) from Malta.

Edward Torpiano

Do not get married

I can assure Dr Anna Mallia that most of the members or ex-members of the Association for Men’s Rights were fathers, husbands/handymen (doing all sorts of men’s jobs - painting, whitewashing, plumbing, some also building their own house, etc.) and breadwinners, and their marriage also ended on the rocks.
So Anna Mallia’s article does not hold. It is impossible today that marriages survive with the situation being as it is – my suggestion to all is: do not get married.

John Zammit
President, Association for Men’s Rights

Misreporting facts

I would like to reply to Mr Raphael Vassallo’s article on your newspaper about the petition presented to MP’s by the Gift of Life. I suggest Mr Vassallo check his sources. There are so many mistakes (and not only scientific) that I have decided not to answer in detail except to point out that the letter is grossly a case of misreporting of facts.

Dr Michael Asciak





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