Nothing screamed Malta Kattolika as much as the memes, outrage and support that spread like wildfire in reaction to the publishing and circulation of plans submitted for a rooftop restaurant to enjoy the views from the Paola parish church. Christ the King parish immediately issued a statement that their intent was rather for a humble cafeteria to support pastoral projects.

As I’m writing, and courtesy of Times of Malta, the latest is that the parish priest not only defended the proposal as the commercialisation of the worship building but not of the worship space, but gave the public a tour of the location to explain what a constant maintenance headache it is.

Beyond the media spectacle, Fr Marc-Andre Camilleri indirectly raised a crucial point that deserves urgent attention. “How can a church that was maintained by 15,000 people now be maintained by 2,000?” he lamented. “But doesn’t the bishop give you any money?” retorted the journalist. “Every parish church is still the responsibility of its parishioners,” was his reply. And that is the rub.

Malta Kattolika boasts many churches that beautifully adorn our cultural landscape. One cannot imagine Malta without its koppli and slaleb, each one uniquely identifying the community that built it many decades ago. Indeed, today we lament that our landscape is being uglified through buildings that might dwarf churches in size, but are midgets in contrast to the elegance of our baroque architecture.

Still, temples old and new might seem timeless, but just like us mere mortals, they stand the test of time not by fiat, but because, as symbol of the religious aspirations of the communities who built them, communities continue to care for them and maintain them. But what happens when the temple is still standing while the religious community ceases to be?

The local Catholic Church needs more than rooftop cafeterias for its more than urgent “spiritual conversations” towards pastoral renewal

We are reaching that point in Malta Kattolika. We seem to have more Catholic churches than practising Catholics. But precisely because it is Malta Kattolika, irrespective of whether our beliefs agree with those of our forebears or not, since they treasured their religious symbols, they also passed them on to us as legacy for all. So today, should Catholics alone carry the (expensive) burden of heritage that is also Maltese?

The question is much harder for those who still identify as Catholics. As donations – the financial lifeblood of the Church – continue to dwindle, which “church” will we prioritise to build and maintain? That of stone and mortar? That of people and community? Something (or many things) will have to give. What are our pastoral priorities?

The local Catholic Church needs more than rooftop cafeterias for its more than urgent “spiritual conversations” towards pastoral renewal. It needs much humility. And wisdom.


Nadia Delicata is episcopal delegate for evangelisation of the Malta archdiocese.

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