(The Dialog) — Pope Francis’ two-day go to to the tiny European nation of Malta, a strongly Catholic island just south of Sicily, in April, 2022 put a highlight on Malta’s difficult historical past and necessary up to date considerations. Chief amongst these is the sharp enhance within the variety of asylum-seekers from Africa and the Middle East, and criticism of how Malta has treated them.
As a scholar of Catholic history and ritual, I’ve studied the event of the church in a number of European international locations, and the necessary position that the lives of individuals commemorated as saints have performed in the best way Catholics deal with up to date points.
Custom has it that the primary Maltese saint was St. Publius, the first-century bishop of the early Christian neighborhood in Malta. He was commemorated as a saint lengthy earlier than saints had been officially proclaimed by the pope. Nevertheless, historians have raised questions whether Publius ever existed or served as bishop.
The one Maltese individual to be formally named a saint by a pope is St. George Preca, a priest of the archdiocese of Malta within the first half of the twentieth century. Preca was beatified, or given the title of “Blessed,” the second-to-last step in being proclaimed a saint, in 2001 by Pope John Paul II. In 2007 he was canonized — the final step in attaining sainthood — by Pope Benedict XVI.
Preca was born in 1880 in Malta’s capital metropolis, Valetta, and was introduced up in a city simply outdoors of the town. After major and secondary college, he entered the seminary of Malta and, regardless of extreme lung issues that threatened his life, was ordained to the priesthood in 1906.
Abnormal Catholics in Malta on the time were largely uneducated. Most didn’t know the Bible effectively and as an alternative targeted on devotional practices that some clergymen thought-about nearly superstitious. As a seminarian, Preca turned increasingly convinced that the main focus of his ministry was to be coaching laymen – and later, laywomen – to show different Catholics, each youngsters and adults, about their Catholic religion and the Bible.
A brand new order
Coaching laypeople to coach others like themselves about their religion was a revolutionary idea on the time, since normally solely seminarians or clergymen, and typically nuns, could be concerned in that sort of training. Earlier than his ordination, Preca himself had change into energetic in discussing spiritual subjects with strange working males, after which teaching catechism – the principles of Catholic beliefs – to younger boys in a nearby town.
That group of younger males would change into the core of the brand new spiritual society for laypeople, The Society of Christian Doctrine, which Preca quickly based. Later, this society was nicknamed “Museum” due to the dilapidated constructing that was its unique assembly place. These unordained lecturers – called catechists – were later divided into two branches, one for males and one for ladies.
As time went on, they established instructional facilities for youngsters and adults in almost every parish in Malta. These facilities are nonetheless energetic at present in Malta and in several other countries as well, especially Australia.
Resistance to teachings
However at the start of the twentieth century, Preca’s concepts weren’t instantly accepted by his extra conservative superiors. Inside a number of years of their founding, his archbishop ordered his catechetical facilities in Malta to be closed. Although they had been reopened a number of years later after deeper investigation, his group was not given final, official approval in Rome until 1932. Throughout that point, and for the rest of his life, he inspired members of his society to stay humble and sort within the face of hardship and criticism.
Preca died in July 1962. In October 1962, the Second Vatican Council, which was known as by Pope John XXIII to modernize the Catholic Church, started in Rome. Among the many reforms the council pressured was the importance of both Scripture and tradition because the foundations for Catholic Christian life, and it inspired all Catholics to check the Bible.
Preca was a pioneer in training laypeople to become religious educators for both children and adults, specializing in Gospel educating whereas encouraging them to reside their lives in accordance with its values. In reality, at Preca’s beatification in 2001, Pope John Paul II referred to him as Malta’s “second father in religion.”
In 2010 Pope Benedict XVI proposed a new evangelization motion for all members of the Catholic Church within the twenty first century. This motion positioned a renewed emphasis on preaching and educating within the up to date world, very a lot in keeping with Preca’s work within the early twentieth century. Each Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have expanded the concept of this new concentrate on preaching and educating the Gospel to incorporate specific concern for the welfare of refugees and migrants.
The pope’s go to to Malta attracts new consideration to the work of St. George Preca. His concentrate on educating Catholics extra deeply on the that means of Jesus’ educating could present some steerage for Malta and different international locations in confronting this world difficulty.
(Joanne M. Pierce is professor emerita of non secular research on the School of the Holy Cross. The views expressed on this commentary don’t essentially mirror these of Faith Information Service.)