And so, farewell…

Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici went out of his way, in his last will, to specify that he did not want the state funeral accorded to those, like him, who had held high office. 

And so, since he did not want to be taken to the cathedral, the cathedral came to the church in his hometown, Ħamrun. 

The ceremonial guard, the colours of the nation, the drydocks ex-stalwarts, the lawyers and the judges, the chief justice, the president’s wife, the folk from Ħamrun and Cottonera. All of them trooping in, quicker than the incessant notes of the dirge. 

The military brass in full regalia and ordinary people in their tracksuits. 

The archbishop and his clergy as well as a cadre of politicians from both sides of the aisle.

I don’t attend many funerals. So my wife was taken aback when I went an hour early. 

It’s time I owe him, I said. 


In the two years in which I took my legal training in his law office, Karmenu taught me many things but the most difficult one, for me, was this: Your time and undivided attention is the greatest gift you can give somebody.

So many nights we spent in his office: listening to people tell him their legal problems and worries.

Frequently, they would launch into endless repeat versions.

I would start to fidget and fret: there were 50 other people outside, waiting their turn.

But Karmenu kept their gaze, lent his ear, ignored the loud rings of the black bakelite telephone… and instead exuded compassion. 

Karmenu was all about the least of his brethren

I first met him right after he retired from politics. To me and to scores of others of my generation, he had been the devil incarnate. 

Can I reconcile the two?

Not easily. His policies as minister of education seemed cruel and discriminatory. Like many, I felt burned by them. 

Still angry, I would ask him about these things when the day was over. And my questions would be loaded and full of animus.  

Although tired, he always answered and his answers revealed, nay confirmed, that he was a radical. 

Kindness and compassion alone would not lift the downtrodden.

But sharp change, he believed, might.

And when we talked about the EU, I spoke about the huge opportunities that his stance would have us miss out on. 

While he spoke about the ‘structural unemployment’ that would never lift and which condemned millions to poverty. 

Throughout the funeral mass, there was never a mention of the word ‘prime minister’.

The readings chosen by his family spoke of “the least of our brethren”. How an act of kindness with these was an act of love, according to the Gospel by Matthew, towards God. 

Karmenu was all about the least of his brethren.

Although he was born into an influential family steeped in history, his greatest wish was to walk down the social ladder, sit in its mud with those who lived there and lead them all out of it towards a better life.

The methods were the part he, I and many others in the funeral congregation never agreed on. 

Today, that mattered a bit less. 

Instead, what I felt was that everybody had a deep appreciation of the man’s sense of mission, vocation and selflessness.


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