Cardinal Keith O'Brien on a visit to the island of Gozo in Malta to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the Church of Ss Peter & Paul on Tuesday 29 June 2004, used his homily to join join with Pope John Paul II in thanking Malta for its commitment to promote the mention of Europe's Christian heritage in the European Constitution.
The Cardinal added;
"as a Catholic Christian country the voice of Gozo and Malta must continue to be heard among those other voices now members of the European Union."
The full text of Cardinal O'Brien's homily is shown below.
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Notes to editors:
1. Cardinal O'Brien is in Malta to participate in the celebrations surronding the anniversary of the church of Ss Peter & Paul, as two of his priests in the Archdiocese of St. Andrew's & Edinburgh are from Gozo - Fr. Lorreto Tabone and Fr. Joseph Portelli
2. The island nation of Malta has a population of 400,000, of whom about 91% are Catholic
200TH ANNIVERSARY OF CHURCH OF SS PETER AND PAUL
NADUR, GOZO, MALTA
HOMILY PREACHED BY CARDINAL KEITH PATRICK O BRIEN
FEAST OF SS PETER AND PAUL : TUESDAY 29 JUNE 2004
It is indeed a very great privilege for me being here with you today as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the building of your magnificent church in Nadur in honor of the apostles St Peter and St Paul “ celebrating this Mass on the feast day itself.
It is a joy to come here to the scene of the labours of the great St Paul who sowed the seeds of the Christian faith in this area binding the peoples of Gozo and Malta evermore closely to the teaching of St Peter, and, of course, of the teaching of Jesus Christ himself.
History of Nadur:
The earlier history of Nadur is well known to you all - so many of you who have been living here throughout your lives and many others who have returned for this particular celebration.
We know that the peoples who initially lived in Nadur were open to the worship of God “ the bronze statue of Apollo in Nadur itself is indeed tangible proof of the search of the peoples of Nadur and indeed throughout Gozo for the one true God.
It was the great St Paul himself, that apostle to the gentiles who brought the light of the Christian faith to these islands and to this place and for that we give God, our Father in Heaven immense thanks. St Paul led you to that worship of the one true God whom your ancestors sought in years past.
I have been told that the word Nadur is equivalent to the word meaning watchfulness “ and that has been part of the heritage of your peoples down through the century “ a watchfulness to ensure that your lands and the seas around them were kept safe from invaders. The knights of St John arrived in 1530 with the inhabitants of Nadur then believing their worries would be ended “ but the great siege of 1551 brought further tragedy and worries that were very difficult to surmount.
However, the spiritual leaders decided that each village should have a pastor to love and lead the faithful binding them evermore closely to Jesus Christ himself. It was in 1688 that Nadur was proclaimed a parish with the hill at its centre, the first chaplain being Father Bernard Haber.
The primary apostles St Peter and St Paul were chosen as the patron saints of the new parish “ and I am sure that the naming of those apostles has had an influence on all in your parish and on this Island ever since.
The old church served its purpose for many years. However, when a new priest Father Frangisk Sapiano took over as chaplain he ensured that a new building was soon erected surrounding the old one which was finally removed to make room for the new one with the new building being solemnly blessed in 1804. It is that wonderful anniversary that we are celebrating on this occasion.
Patrons of the parish and the church:
As indicated to you the first apostles St Peter and St Paul were early on in the history of your parish named as patrons of the parish and then of the church.
The naming of these apostles has had an influence on the history of your parish ever since. In the preface of today s feast day Mass, Peter is described as our leader in the faith while Paul is described as its fearless preacher . And further on it is stated that: Peter raised up the Church from the faithful flock of Israel while Paul brought your call to the nations and he became the preacher of the world .
I ask you to think of these particular titles of St Peter and St Paul and to see how they apply to our lives at this present time.
I know that I speak at a particularly important time in the history of Gozo and of Malta “ with your country having recently been welcomed as a member of the European Union. On this occasion I simply say two things to you: Now that you are members of the Union with around 452 million inhabitants you must do two things: You must, like St Peter continue to be leaders in your faith that Catholic Christian faith of which you have been so proud for the past two thousand years; and you must also, like St Paul, be fearless preachers of that same faith as you reach out evermore strongly into an expanded European Union and into the world.
St Peter “ a Leader in the Faith:
With regard to leadership in our faith I take this opportunity of reminding you of that strong and firm faith which has been handed on to you from generation to generation since the seeds of the faith were first sown on your Island. Central to the handing on of your faith has been your church, your parish, and your Catholic homes.
Vocations to the priesthood and to the religious life have flourished on your Island “ and for this I personally am intensely grateful. As you know Father Joseph Portelli and Father Loreto Tabone both sons of this parish of Ss Peter and Paul, Nadur have given their priestly lives to serve in the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, my own Archdiocese in Scotland. I take this opportunity of thanking them both most sincerely and of thanking their parents, their families and their friends. We, along with other countries, have indeed benefited from the flourishing of vocations in Gozo “ long may that flourishing continue.
A further basic aspect of your faith which I want to emphasise at this present time is that of a stable family life. Again that has been one of the marks of your communities in Gozo over the centuries. On this island you have realised the value of Catholic marriage and family life; you try to celebrate marriage as a beautiful sacrament which it is; you yourselves look upon children as a gift from Almighty God, the gift of young people who must be brought up to know love and serve God as their Father in Heaven; and you yourselves are solicitous for the ongoing care for all in your families.
As recently as last March detailed proposals for a European Union Family Strategy were produced and were designed to make the enlarged European Union the most family friendly region of the world by 2010. I am sure that the example of family life here in Gozo will help many other countries within the European Union. The strategy indicates: Promoting the family will ultimately make European Union citizens happier, produce greater social cohesion, have a positive effect on public health, and may in the process contribute to reversing the decline in the European Union birthrate .
Be aware of the value of the family life which you have here on Gozo; endeavour to strengthen it in every way possible; and allow your family life to be an example to others in the different parts of the world.
St Paul “ the fearless preacher of the faith:
And I call on you as many calls have gone out to you before to continue to be like your Patron St Paul fearless preachers of the faith of Jesus Christ.
I know that very many lay women and lay men have left your Island and your neighboring Island of Malta to many countries in the world carrying your faith with you. You have been exemplarily preachers of the Christian Faith wherever you have gone; and you have ensured that your children and your children s children are brought up in that faith which was handed
on to you. I ask you to continue to be bearers of that faith to the lands where the seas will carry you “ to the four corners of our earth.
Perhaps you also have a special responsibility through your membership now of the European Union. You become members of that community which embraces both western and eastern Europe; as Pope John Paul 11 has stated enlargement of the European Union will begin to allow the two lungs of Europe to be brought together again .
I myself attended a Synod of Bishops in Europe in 1999 when we then urged European leaders to: Raise your voices in the faith of the violation of human rights of individuals, minorities and peoples, beginning with the right to religious freedom; pay utmost attention to everything that concerns human life from the moment of its conception to natural death, and to the family based on marriage; these are the foundations on which our common European home rests!
I join with the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II who only last week, thanked Malta for its commitment in helping to promote the mention of the continent's Christian heritage in the European Constitution.
The Pope voiced his appreciation when he met President Adami in Rome and I share that appreciation today. In this increasingly secular age, it is both reassuring and heartening to witness the support given by the government of Malta for the inclusion of a reference to Europe's Christian heritage in the preamble of the Constitutional Treaty of the European Union. Sadly, the version of the constitution approved by European Union leaders fails to mention Christianity. However, the constitution still must be ratified by all 25 member states before it comes into effect.
Obviously as a Catholic Christian country the voice of Gozo and Malta must continue to be heard among those other voices now members of the European Union.
I renew my congratulations to you on this 200th Anniversary of your beautiful church dedicated to the apostles St Peter and St Paul.
As your church is a landmark in your village and on your Island, so too your faith must be a landmark here on Gozo and wherever people from Nadur travel. Your patrons have inspired many people before you down through the past two thousand years. May you continue to realise the value of their example “ Peter, leader in the faith and Paul its fearless preacher “ and may you all both be ever more fully aware of that strong faith which has been handed on to you and which must be handed on to others.