Fr Ryan Lee Pace writes:
The unexpected death of Mgr Arthur came as a shock to us all. In spite of his age, Mgr Arthur was still very active. Besides his unfailing service at Stella Maris church − his home parish in Sliema − rain or shine, he would never miss his daily walk and a swim in the hot summer days.
Mgr Arthur’s departure teaches us that no matter how strong we are, we cannot live forever. Death is an inevitable part of life. For us, who believe, it is simply the path between our earthly life and life everlasting. Mgr Arthur strongly upheld this belief and prepared himself well for the final hour. I used to admire his faithfulness to daily prayer: the breviary, the celebration of Holy Mass, the visit to the Blessed Sacrament and the rosary were an essential part of his routine.
Ordained in 1959, when he was only 23, Mgr Arthur obtained a Doctorate Degree in Canon Law from the Pontifical Lateran University and started his pastoral work at the Marriage Office under the guidance of his lifelong friend Mgr Philip Calleja. At the same time, he was appointed Secretary of the Liturgical Commission and worked tirelessly with his mentor Mgr Joseph Lupi to implement the liturgical reform brought about by the Second Vatican Council.
When in April 1968, Mgr Emanuel Gerada was appointed Co-adjutor Bishop of Malta, Mgr Arthur was chosen as his secretary – a role that burdened him with great responsibility and made him protagonist in hot debates, particularly the discussions that led to the reconciliation of the Church with the Labour Party in 1969. Mgr Arthur was like a brother to Mgr Gerada; so much so that when Gerada was transferred from Malta to the nunciature of Guatemala and later, to Pakistan and Ireland, Mgr Arthur would spend his holidays with him.
But Mgr Arthur’s greatest contribution was undoubtedly the long years of service at the Metropolitan Tribunal, first as chancellor and then, from 1981 till 2015, as judicial vicar. At the helm of the Church’s law courts, Mgr Arthur saw his work as an endeavour to find the truth, always seeking to do what is right, even if this came at a high price.
Although his main work at the tribunal dealt with broken families and couples seeking to annul their marriage, his greatest achievement was the collecting of documents and testimonies in the beatification process of Nazju Falzon, Adeodata Pisani and George Preca, thus contributing to Preca’s canonisation in 2007.
In gratitude for his sterling service to the local Church, Archbishop Mercieca appointed him canon of the Metropolitan Cathedral in 1994. Mgr Arthur was held in high esteem by many bishops and high-ranking clerics in Malta and abroad. Archbishop Charles Scicluna, Bishop Mario Grech, Archbishop Antoine Camilleri and Bishop Carmel Zammit all worked closely with him at the tribunal. John Paul II’s master of ceremonies, Mgr Piero Marini, was a personal friend and, on one occasion, his guest for lunch at his residence in Sliema.
Mgr Arthur loved the Church unconditionally. He kept abreast of current affairs and continued to contribute in many ways, till his last days. I will cherish his words of advice, more often than not, given bluntly and with his inimitable wit.
I will also fondly remember his love for music and his beautiful singing which I had the privilege to accompany on the organ at the 7am Sunday Mass at Stella Maris. I will cherish our conversations, especially the last one that took place on the day he was taken ill.
Mgr Arthur will be missed by many: by his siblings who loved him and took care of him impeccably, but also by all of us who respected him and looked up to him as an exemplary priest. Indeed, those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. (Daniel 12, 3).
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