Tuesday, 3rd May, 2016
Not to lose my religion
Alfred E. Baldacchino
The Gozo diocese is once again in the news. Not for any special religious teaching or matters of faith, but because of a commercial application, endorsed by the Minster for Gozo, to the new Planning Authority. The PA is being asked to approve a car park instead of a historical building.
It is a building described by many professionals as an elegant house by the renowned architect in the early 1950s, Ġuże Damato, who designed many parish churches.
Among the many who have objected to the demolition are Din l-Art Ħelwa, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, and Architect Conrad Thake from the University. An online petition garnered over 3,750 signatures objecting to such ‘barbaric destruction’. An official objection was also submitted by FAA to the Planning Authority.
The Gozo cathedral chapter insists that “its needs should be considered too”, “there are no adverse reactions to the final proposal”, and that “the need for better accessibility to the Gozo citadel far outweighs the need to conserve a house of dubious historical significance”. The house is the property of the Gozo Curia, and the Curia want to demolish the property for the benefit of its parishioners. This is all being done to help the parishioners gain better access to their parish, as the Curia’s architect said.
Some years ago I was on the Gozo cathedral parvis and decided to visit the cathedral. A tourist also wanted to enter but was asked for a ticket at the door.
“What ticket?” he asked surprised, “I only want to pray.” He was not allowed in because he did not pay. We both withdrew from the house of prayer, and ever since I did not set foot on that parvis.
It seems that the Gozo diocese does not want to hear or to learn of its social and environmental responsibilities arising out of the Church’s spiritual teachings. It has already been in the driving seat of the cemetery at Wied il-Qasab in Gozo, a project which ruined a historical and natural hydrological system. It drove farmers to despair, to the extent that there is a court case for yearly damages caused by the building of the cemetery.
And now the same diocese is at the helm of a project which if approved will eliminate a historic building to build a car park “for the benefit of parishioners”.
This reminds me of the Isis mentality which destroys historical monuments in the name of their god.
Is it possible that Laudato Si is yet to reach the spiritual leaders of the Gozo diocese?
Is it possible that the ripples of the worldwide impact of Pope Francis’s Laudato Si have not yet reached the Gozo diocese, enclosed in their fortified citadel?
Is it possible that Laudato Si, which was applauded even by atheists for its social, environmental and spiritual vision, has yet to reach the spiritual leaders of the Gozo diocese?
Is it possible that the pro-business vision which has infected the Maltese mentality has also contaminated the Gozo diocese?
The teachings by Pope Francis in his ecumenical letter are very clear. Laudato Si shows the need for new and more appropriate forms to think biblically in spiritual guidance. A new approach needed which goes beyond decisions that are not sustainable.
Laudato Si teaches that not everything can be accepted in the discernment of spiritual guidance. The Church achieves more genuine and effective spiritual guidance when it is willing and ready to deprive itself from the right to acquire more common riches.
These are the teachings of Pope Francis, unless of course the Gozo diocese has declared complete independence from the Vatican.
If the Gozo cathedral chapter really wants to “help the parishioners gain better access to their parish”, it can easily sponsor a shuttle service from it-Tokk bus terminus or from near the local council offices.
This can take them to the front door of the church, and in so doing, save resources, contribute to a smaller carbon dioxide emission footprint, avoid traffic congestions adjacent to the citadel, and help in the conservation of historical buildings.
If it is believed that Pope Francis is not up to the level to understand the needs and aims of the Gozitan cathedral chapter, then perhaps the latter should refer to the Bible and ruminate on verses 12 and 13 in Matthew’s chapter 21.
“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all that sold and bought in the temple… He said to them, ‘my house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers’.”
This is what the Church teaches, or rather, is expected to teach, even in Gozo.
If this is not digestible to the Cathedral chapter, then I believe the Archbishop should intervene and put his foot down and file for an injunction like he boldly did against the Carmelites in St. Julian’s. In this miniscule country, there cannot be two gods, one for each island.
If this fails too, not to lose my religion, as I am sure many others feel, it would be appropriate for me to disassociate myself with this kind of tribal religion based on papier mache gilted with gold, bells, books and candles… and ‘parking places for parishiners’.