The brief visit of Pope Francis to our island, though announced well in advance, seemed to have caught many of us unawares. What with Russia’s war on Ukraine and the general election, there seemed to have been little time to reflect and prepare ourselves, internally, for the much-needed encounter.

But, one may ask, why was such a visit planned? Was it needed? Why was it given such prominence? We are considered a secular society and, yet, gave such importance and prominence to a spiritual leader.

There is no doubt that, consciously or unconsciously, we had all been longing for a spiritual boost to uplift us from a routine where the only concern is material gain. If there was a time when we, as a people, needed such a boost, it was now.

This inner urge for something nobler and higher, though dormant in most of us, was stirred by encountering a person like Pope Francis. There was no distinction – young and old, rich and poor, the marginalised, followers and leaders, red, blue, green and orange... all flocked to get a glimpse and listen to encouraging words of wisdom from this spiritual leader.

Pope Francis warned us to be aware of material influences and ideologies for man does not live on bread alone. He earmarked certain principles that should be heeded in our civic life: “Honesty, justice, a sense of duty and transparency are the essential pillars of a mature civil society.” He expressed hope that our “commitment to eliminate illegality and corruption be strong like the north wind that sweeps the coast of this country”.

In this new beginning, the start of a new legislature, let us as one nation build our policies and vision for the future on the principles that Pope Francis highlighted. Isn’t it, perhaps, because we ignore the moral dimension when formulating economic, environmental and social policies that we stand where we are today? 

We need, once again, to put emphasis on moral and ethical values. Those in authority should be morally engaged when taking decisions, for the good of society as a whole.

Very often one discards moral behaviour in order to be more popular or to justify illicit means to reach a particular goal. Arthur Bandura, in his book Moral Disengagement, asserts that “the pace of social change is exceedingly slow when heavy political costs make it hard to be morally courageous”.

Let those in authority not shy away from applying moral principles to their policies- Ray Azzopardi

Consulting the social teaching of the Church and specific encyclicals dealing with social issues would help politicians formulate policies that respect the dignity of the human person and the common good.

It was heartening to see huge crowds from all walks of life greet Pope Francis. As our spiritual leader he was warm and approachable because he was interested in the inner sufferings of every human being, irrespective of colour, creed or race. This was clear to see when he greeted the migrants and asylum seekers in Ħal Far.

If our Christian faith is one of the traits that makes us Maltese, let us allow it to enlighten us in all our actions and decisions. Let those in authority not shy away from applying moral principles to their policies.

If we want the pope’s visit to our island to be beneficial, we need to seriously take heed of his advice. As both main parties reflect on the outcome of the general election, let them also reflect on what the pontiff has brought to our attention, highlighting those values that help us move forward as a unified and healthy society.

Yes, all of us needed such a spiritual boost. And we should all be grateful that Pope Francis, though visibly frail and with such a heavy schedule, made it a point to visit us.

Let us not allow this moment of grace to be lost.

Though the separation of powers applies to Church and state, let them cooperate and work together for the good of our nation.

Ray Azzopardi, former headmaster


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