Feast enthusiasts have branded as “rushed and draconian” the Church’s decision to ban all external celebrations till the end of the year except for a pilgrimage with the titular statue.

The controversial directive was issued on Tuesday when the bishops announced that no feasts would be held until restrictions on mass events imposed due to COVID-19 remain in place.

However, even if the situation were to improve and this restriction lifted, celebrations would be limited to High Mass on Sunday or public holidays and a thanksgiving pilgrimage with the titular statue.

No external celebrations such as band marches can be held and the religious programme normally spread over an entire week cannot take place either.

However, in an announcement made on Wednesday in a short video clip, Archbishop Charles Scicluna held out a glimmer of hope for enthusiasts.

“The directive could be revised if there are new developments,” he said, pointing out that the decision to issue this directive so early was because feast preparations started months in advance.

Why did the Church choose to cancel all of them at once?

Feast enthusiasts who spoke to Times of Malta said they had no qualms about cancelling feasts to safeguard public health should the outbreak persist. They still had the question, however, of why the Church had made the decision at such an “early stage” on the fate of all feasts, even those scheduled for August and September.

Josef Camilleri, the president of the Maltese Pyrotechnic Union, cited the example of the fireworks festival which had been postponed.

“Why did the Church choose to cancel all of them at once when it could have decided to postpone them just like it did with the First Holy Communion and Confirmation?” he asked.

Safety concerns were also raised: at this time of year, with feasts only a few months away, it was no longer possible to dismantle the ultra-elaborate petards, Camilleri said.

“Having all firework factories loaded with petards for more than a year does not bode well. It is not advisable to keep them stored for such a long period,” he said.

Echoing the criticism levelled on social media, he said the Church had taken a “rushed and draconian” decision.

Malta Band Clubs Association president Noel Camilleri was less critical.

“My biggest issue is the fact that there was no consultation whatsoever with us. The decision itself is understandable to ensure uniformity, especially in localities with two feasts where there is huge rivalry,” he said.

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Enthusiasts who preferred to remain anonymous expressed concern that the ecclesiastical authorities had profited from the situation to start scaling down feasts in the wake of criticism that external celebrations, such as fireworks displays, were going overboard.

“While there is room for improvement on certain aspects, feasts also play an important part in the tourism industry as well as the business community,” one enthusiast pointed out.

“Given than Malta is bracing itself for a turbulent economic period, feasts may well be a lifeline as they generate a lot of commerce throughout the entire summer,” he added.

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