The saga of Angelik Caruana, who claims the Virgin Mary appears to him at Borġ in-Nadur every Wednesday, continues. Kristina Chetcuti paid a visit to his popular public gatherings.
The crowd is 300-strong but the silence on Borġ in-Nadur hill in Birżebbuġa resonates across the fields. The sun has gone down, the rosary has been recited.
The assembly is waiting for Angelik Caruana, 46, to pass on the message of the week, as allegedly dictated to him by the Virgin Mary. Divorce seems to be on the agenda here too.
“Malta, your island, will go through difficult circumstances,” the Virgin Mary is quoted by Mr Caruana. “Indeed, I repeat, Malta will go through a difficult situation.”
The hush turns into a lament from the congregation: “Divorce, Our Lady is talking about divorce!”, “God help us!”, “Let’s pray for salvation!” they cry.
The message goes on: “It will pass, and once this difficult situation is over, God will then reunite you together as one family. And you will give witness to Europe and to the world.”
Elation erupts from the assembly: “Our Lady will spare us!”, “Divorce won’t go through”; “We’ll be saved” they exclaim.
The rapture is swiftly brought to a halt with the next part of the alleged message: “The time has come… for Malta’s turn to experience the tremors and you shall see buildings shake, especially in that area that your ancestors built for defence: the area around the port.”
Later, as everybody makes their way down to the valley, the mood is grim. Devotees tell The Sunday Times their only tool is the rosary and they will be encouraging others to say four rosaries a day, “so that we may be spared the tragedy”.
Two days later, on April 1, when an undersea quake off the north coast of Crete, is felt in Valletta, timesofmalta.com is flooded with comments claiming this cannot be a mere coincidence.
Some also link the prediction to divorce, a combination tantamount to scaremongering.
Mr Caruana, father of four and a receptionist at a home for the elderly in Floriana, first made headlines in 2006. He claimed that an inexpensive statue of the Virgin bought by his wife, started weeping tears of blood and oozing a large quantity of oil, a phenomenon which, according to the official website borgin-nadur.org, is said to have last happened as recently as February 16.
In 2009, Malta’s top forensic investigator Anthony Abela Medici, and forensic pathologist Albert Cilia Vincenti were commissioned by the Archbishop to investigate the claims. DNA tests proved the blood on the statue was Mr Caruana’s own and the oil was everyday kitchen oil.
Since then, neither Mr Caruana, nor his spiritual director, Fr Hayden Williams, a Capuchin friar, has given interviews to the media. The Borġ in-Nadur sessions remain open to the public and the meetings are filmed and uploaded on YouTube.
Followers at Borġ in-Nadur tell The Sunday Times they ardently believe Mr Caruana is a chosen messenger of God.
“Of course, we have to wait for the Church’s decision. But if you ask me personally, I’ll tell you I believe. I’ve seen too many signs not to believe what Angelik is saying,” says Paul Licari, 56, who has been going to Borġ in-Nadur for years and helps with the organisation.
The Church in Malta has been consistently non-committal. Asked to comment on Mr Caruana’s cult-like following at Borġ in-Nadur, on the prayer meetings taking place at his house, as well as on the online videos posted weekly on YouTube, the Curia’s reply is curt: “The local Church is following with attention the alleged apparitions in Borġ in-Nadur and at the same time, the Vatican is being updated on what is happening.”
A joint commission of the Holy See and the Archdiocese has been appointed to investigate the case. Questions on the conclusion of its work remain unanswered.
The Church makes it clear that Fr Williams was not assigned by the Church but took up the position on his personal initiative. “Mr Caruana often asks for spiritual guidance from Fr Hayden, and this explains his involvement,” the Curia says.
Fr Williams, 33, took on this responsibility when he was just 27 and used to lead spiritual tours to Medjugorje where, purportedly the Virgin Mary appeared to six visionaries.
When he became Mr Caruana’s spiritual director, he roped in Fr Elija Vella, a well-known exorcist who determined that the alleged phenomena were not of a satanic nature.
Borġ in-Nadur, once a prehistoric Bronze Age settlement, turns into an open-air communal prayer area, with people of all ages gathering early, armed with beach chairs and portable stools. Some bring flowers, but no donations. No collections take place.
Dress code is varied: Some are in their tracksuits, others in heels and office wear. Often among the congregation there are several nuns, friars and priests.
Those gathered recite the rosary. On the visits by The Sunday Times, this is always offered to Our Lady for her intercession to prevent the onset of divorce in Malta.
At 7 p.m. Mr Caruana, together with a group of 12 followers, allegedly chosen by the Virgin Mary to help him in his spiritual journey, arrive at the area of prayer and the devotees rise to their feet.
Decidedly overweight, Mr Caruana makes use of a stick to reach the site. He has to stop at intervals to catch his breath. Once he reaches the prayer area, he opens his hands and almost immediately goes into an ecstatic state.
In this ‘state’ he then climbs a steep rocky mound – rather nimbly and without the aid of the stick – and sits in front of a cross. He keeps staring towards the east, where the alleged vision of the Virgin Mary takes place.
This vision lasts throughout the rosary and at the end the Virgin Mary supposedly passes on her message to the Maltese. After this come the testimonials.
On March 30, Tania Zammit of Attard and Mary and Freddie Mallia, tell the gathering how during a prayer session at Mr Caruana’s house, he suddenly went down on his knees and from the corner of the ceiling they saw a host float down into Mr Caruana’s hands. The crowd is in raptures: “Ahh!”, “Praise the Lord”.
The microphone is handed to another family who claim they also witnessed the sudden appearance of a host in Mr Caruana’s hands when they were “praying for a separated couple” at his house.
Fr Williams wraps up the evening with a sermon on the mound, highlighting contents of the message, albeit refraining from commenting on its origin. His sermon is long and the congregation begins to shift; it is now past 9 p.m.
At the end, a sizeable group of people queues up to speak to Mr Caruana. When chatting to The Sunday Times – about matters not related to his visions – Mr Caruana mumbles and stutters. This contrasts with his confident public address in his ‘state of ecstasy’.
He does not understand English, is visibly tired, shivering with cold, and has the blank expression of someone who is not following what is being said. Fr Williams interjects and often answers on his behalf.
Sceptics deem the alleged visions questionable, especially in the light of the odd behaviour which is supposedly instigated by the Virgin Mary. He has been purportedly ‘instructed’ to tie a rope around his neck and wrists – signifying slavery; plunge his head into a pail of water; tattoo the rosary beads on his arms (this lost him some of the followers); and smear his face with mud (reminiscent of the visions at Lourdes).
He also claims to suffer attacks from the devil, to have the first signs of stigmata, and to endure the pain of thorns emerging suddenly from his mouth.
His followers defend this by saying the aim of the Virgin Mary is to shock people into asking questions so that they may then appreciate Her words.
Mr Caruana may be semi-illiterate but his official voice, borgin-nadur.org, is in the meantime encouraging people to reflect on the Virgin Mary’s alleged message on an earthquake in Malta by reading an article penned by Mgr Rene Laurentin, a French expert in Marian visions. The article attributes natural disasters to sin.