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Tell us a little about your childhood?
I had a normal upbringing as a boy, living in a small village, going to the village school. When I finished school, passing what here was known as the 11 plus, I went to the lyceum. As a child I used to be an altar boy and I would also help out in an early mass every day, before going to school. I never had to be encouraged to study, since I liked studying and I also liked playing, especially football. I still have a photo of the school team where I was a central defender. I consider my childhood as quite normal, in keeping with the period at the time. My family was made up of five children, my mother was always at home. I would say I was taught how to share with others, since life was not easy at that time, and you could not afford, on the salary of my father, to have luxuries. I would say we were not poor but nor were we rich. My mother had to make a lot of sacrifices to see us through when it came to feeding us and keeping us clothed.
How did your path to priesthood begin?
The church had a lot of influence on me since I was close to the priests in my parish, I used to belong to a society which was dedicated to teaching children and preparing them to receive the sacraments. In a way I would say that my contact with the priests, who all showed an interest in me and my well being, even offering to help me with my studies, did influence me in my final decision to become a priest. Also at the time there was a lot of tension between the church and a political party, which caused a rift in the country. Luckily my parents kept us out of this tension. The effects of the tension at that time is still sometimes reflected today in what people say about the church in Malta.
What was it like when you first came here?
When I came to Gibraltar I was just finishing my studies in canon law, and at the time I felt ready to do whatever was required of me. In the seminary life is somewhat sheltered, and one starts really realizing what the world is about when one starts facing the everyday problems people deal with.
Can you give us a brief ‘CV’ of your path to Bishop
When Bishop Rapallo invited me to come to Gibraltar, I accepted because I had no fixed ideas about what I was going to do as a priest. For me at that time I just thought that the church needed me somewhere and I was ready to help out. At that time I had one thing in mind, to do my duty as a priest to the best of my ability and accept whatever resulted after that. I never tried to complicate my life, I just lived my life in as simple a way as possible, conscious always of what was expected of me. I never thought of my life as a priest as a career. I just lived my priesthood day by day, and whenever I was asked to do anything by my superiors, I would accept, even if at first I would feel that perhaps I was not the best person for the job.
At first my main assignments were the comprehensive schools and then two parishes. I had other assignments like dealing with the process for marriage nullity cases, adult religious education, going to the prison and other such tasks. For a long number of years I also would say early morning mass in the convent or in Mount Alvernia. When I went to Malta, I again was at the disposal of the Archbishop, and I did what I was asked to do. Mainly I worked in the Curia as a chancellor, and then in the Tribunal. Both assignments were very high profile, but I didn’t choose them, they were assigned to me and I accepted. I was always very close to the bishop under who I used to work, and I think that this did influence me a lot and taught me a lot.
How would you describe yourself, in the spiritual sense?
I do not consider myself as a very spiritual person, in the sense that I am more holy than anyone else. I am no mystic, and I consider myself more as a practical and down to earth person. I do say my prayers, I celebrate mass daily, and I spend time during the day in private prayer, but I cannot say that there is some particular type of spirituality that I follow, such as Jesuit spirituality or monastic spirituality.
How do you see your role now?
As the bishop of Gibraltar, my main task is to be a father to all and to bring the love of God, shown to us in Christ, to those who are somewhat lost. I am aware that Gibraltar’s society is a pluralistic society, that the role of the church in Gibraltar is to put across its beliefs without in any way imposing itself on others. As a bishop, I am bound to teach what the church teaches, to lead those who are members of the church, and to celebrate the sacraments for the sanctification of the faithful. I do not expect others to always agree with me, and I feel that if I am ready to listen to others, others also should pay attention to what I say. Reciprocal respect is part and parcel of our human dignity. I feel that there is no need to quarrel over disagreements and as I said on another occasion, we must be mature enough to agree to disagree. At the end it is only after a lot of experience and the passing of time, that one’s ideas and beliefs are proven right or wrong.
Please expand a little on the nature of this pluralistic society
Secular and spiritual are not exclusive of each other. Spirituality within the secular sphere is not a contradiction. They are distinct, but not opposed to each other. Secular society also needs a moral code, and spirituality, which essentially means some religious belief, may supply this kind of moral code. The secular and the religious are distinct, but they can coexist. What is reprehensible is when the secular become secularism, which means that religious beliefs are sidelined and eradicated. Secularism is opposed to religion, it sees religion as something that detracts from the autonomy or man.
But one must say that secularism exists where mainly Christianity has formed society, and contributed to an understanding of the importance of freedom. In a way secularist society is taking on what religion has provided and strengthened and fight religion itself with this acquired freedom. In a way, in a secularist society, religion has become the victim of its own success.
And finally, looking forward, what are your plans for the Church in Gibraltar?
The future of the Church in Gibraltar depends a lot on the ability of the Church to adapt to the new situations that are being created in the Gibraltarian society. I cannot say that I have definite plans for the future. What I can say is that I feel we must, as a church, give more importance to preparation for the reception of the sacraments. I would like to see more children who know how to say some prayers, who know what the Eucharist and the Sacrament of reconciliation means. I would like to see more preparation for the reception of the sacraments also in adults, when it comes to confirmation and then marriage. I am not a pessimist, and I know that God works in mysterious ways, but at the same time I also know that God helps those who help themselves. So my plan, if one may speak of a plan, is to give more importance to the preparation of children for the reception of the sacraments and to follow them as they grow up and continue to offer them the opportunity of learning more, and practice more, their faith.
What is sure is that there is a hunger for the divine in one’s life unless we consciously drown this and fight against it. Once one opens oneself to God and meets God, necessarily other commitments follow, like going to receive the sacraments and going to church.
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