To the disbelief of many, an April Fool's Day joke became all too real yesterday when the Luqa local council actually pleaded for an infamous phallic-type sculpture to be uprooted "as a sign of respect for the Pope".
Mayor John Schembri called the work shameful, vulgar, obscene and embarrassing - and said even the village's Church authorities wanted it removed quickly and had actually written formal complaints.
Ceramic artist and sculptor Paul Vella Critien, who was responsible for the "monument of shame", lashed out at the "ignorant" people who did not understand art, when confronted with the council's request yesterday.
Pope Benedict XVI will visit Malta this weekend and his route will involve passing through the Luqa roundabout, where the column stands tall.
"There is widespread cross-party consensus that the object placed at the entrance of Luqa is not the most fitting way in which to greet the Pope, especially by what is considered to be the most Catholic country in the world," Mr Schembri said.
He added that the council was again launching a "firm and heartfelt" appeal to the government to make a "timely and mature" intervention and order the removal of this so-called work of art which had been lumped upon the village of Luqa. Ever since this parody of artistic expression had been "erected", he said, the council had never ceased to draw the attention of the government to the fact that it was a "vulgar insult".
Just two weeks ago, the Nationalist Party's media carried an April Fool's joke story saying the "monument" would be removed because of the Pope's visit.
When asked if he was pleased to have possibly inspired such a reaction from the local council, head of news Nathaniel Attard said: "I think it's positive. We did not run the story with any intention of putting pressure for it to be removed. We just made a joke out of it because it's inappropriate that the Pope would pass through there."
Describing the issue as "much ado about nothing", he said he was of the opinion the Pope would not even notice the monument.
"But now that the issue has been raised and since many people interpreted the monument as being vulgar, I don't think there's anything wrong with removing it," he said, adding, however, that if it was insulting, it was not just insulting to the Pope but also to the people of Luqa.
A spokesman for the Curia avoided giving the Church's position on the matter, saying it should not have to get involved since this was the council's issue.
When informed that the parish priest, Karm Camilleri, was also calling for the monument's removal, the Church spokesman said The Times should put the questions to him. However, he could not be reached yesterday.
Meanwhile, the government said it had "no plans" to remove the sculpture.
Mr Vella Critien said his "Mediterranean column" was not a phallic symbol and complained he was never given the chance for a decent interview to clear this misconception. "This is a style I have been using for the past 10 years. I have similar monuments in Germany, Italy, Melbourne, Sydney and another one in Malta," he said.
He described the column as a modern 3D representation of a symbol that has been used since Egyptian times. It points at eternity, using abstract and irregular aspects, in a futuristic and avant-garde style.
He argued that the Vatican had the largest collection of erotic artwork in the world so the Pope would not be scandalised by the monument. "He would look at it as a work of art. The Pope is not the man in the street."
While everyone had the right to interpret the piece in any way they wanted, he said it was a pity most of the Maltese were "uneducated".
"My mistake is that I threw pearls to swine," he said, quoting the Bible.
The council is made up of five Labour members (including mayor Mr Schembri, Joseph Scicluna, Joseph Paul Piscopo, Joseph Camilleri and Lucia Massa) and two Nationalists (Victor Caruana and Frank Psaila, who is also the information director of the PN).
The decision to call for the removal of the statue was unanimous.
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