He came to Malta for just over 30 hours but, like Julius Caesar 2,000 years ago, he could certainly claim, during his short stay on the island of Paul: “Veni, Vidi, Vici.”

In this short period of time, not only did he win the hearts of the population but he also exposed the crass hypocrisy of our political leaders.

It all started on the Thursday preceding the papal visit, when Chris Fearne announced that he had contracted COVID. The man was honest enough to make this public and stay at home.

The same thing cannot be said about his ministerial colleagues. The day before, they had all been grouped together, being sworn in as ministers at the presidential palace. All of them were kissing the same cross that Fearne had just kissed.

Any normal Maltese would have been asked to rush off to Boffa Hospital for a swab and then to rush off home and segregate themselves in isolation.

But not the ministers and prime minister, of course. These are superior beings who had just been given a third mandate to rule over Malta in their feudal way. Who would dare ask them to test and quarantine?

These same chewing gum regulations were applied to other gathering crowds. On Sunday, March 27, thousands of Labour supporters packed St George’s Square, in Valletta to celebrate the PL’s victory, all standing, many with no masks, no social distancing respected. No COVID regulations were applied.

A week later, for Pope Francis’s Mass at the Granaries, pre-booking was essential, mask wearing was compulsory, everybody had to be seated and social distancing was to be kept.

Why all these differences? Possibly because prime ministerial bootlicking is still part and parcel of today’s life in Malta. 

But let us get to what I consider to be the crux of the pope’s visit in Malta: his speech at the presidential palace, which is one of the most highly charged political speeches that I have heard uttered in our country.

The session kicked off with a good speech by our President George Vella, who emphasised the topics of xenophobia, wars, the endangered environment, the arms trade and migration.

However, it was very ironic that,  while the president was emphasising Malta’s supposed vocation of welcoming migrants, the Maltese government led by Robert Abela was stubbornly refusing to help 106 people stranded at sea, including 22 minors.

While our president was preaching the theoretic aspects of a welcoming country, our prime minister was stubbornly manifesting the opposite.

When it came to the implementation, it was a total negation of the theoretical part.

He then insisted that ‘We need transparency’. Do you copy, Maltese politicians?- Arnold Cassola

The pope’s response to the president’s welcoming speech was a masterpiece in the art of castigating the defects of our ruling political and business alliance. 

You could actually name the persons that he was referring to as he was pronouncing his words.

In his response, which I consider to be the greatest political speech delivered in independent Malta, Papa Francesco started off by stating that we must “remove illegality and corruption”. Were Maltese present and former prime ministers listening?

He then insisted that “We need transparency”. Do you copy, Maltese politicians?

He admonished us to “safeguard the environment and stop the greedy developers who are eating up the beauty of nature. Progress should not be at the expense of tradition”. Maltese and Gozitan developers, are you with us?

Then, he insisted on the fact that “Memory is important. We need memory to safeguard our traditions. Progress should not be obtained at the expense of greed for money”. Did you hear that, Maltese captains of industry?

And then he stressed that we must “safeguard the dignity of workers, youth and sick from the illness of modern consumerism”. Have you heard, Mr Employer of Jaiteh Lamin? And you, Mr Contractor of the place where Miriam Pace was killed?

And then he touched upon the theme of migration. And he could not have been clearer: “We must show solidarity with migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean. We must show humanity towards migrants... as was shown towards St Paul. We cannot be cold and indifferent. We must not build walls against migrants. We cannot make use of anachronistic pushbacks.”

Were our political leaders listening? Or were they busy ordering our armed forces to ensure that the 106 stranded at sea remained there?

Finally, the pope mentioned the root of much of the world’s evil for which no Maltese politician can ever be considered to be responsible.

Pope Francis insisted: “We must fight greedy nationalisms and populism that lead to tragic wars. We must fight infantile autocracies and dictatorships.

“We have to fight injustice and famine. We must go for weapon disarmament and the money saved on weapons must be invested in developing countries.

“We are thirsty for peace. We need peace.”

Have our political leaders and building developers understood what Papa Francesco meant by these words?

I am not holding my breath.

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