The Gozo diocese has issued recommendations on festa celebrations to ensure that feasts serve the purpose of bringing people closer to God.

The diocese's college of parish priests said feasts should help Christians enjoy a privileged experience of God through the veneration of patron saints.

Festas, which are part of the nation's character, should not demean their spiritual raison d'etre, a statement issued by the college said. The Gozo diocese wants the people to celebrate feasts but they should do without those elements that could offend or go against the feasts' authentic meaning.

The college appealed to all those who contribute to the organisation of outdoor celebrations to collaborate with parish priests so that feasts remain a truly Christian event. Christians can do this by attending Mass and taking part in prayer and the procession. The recommendations were approved by the college and by Gozo Bishop Mario Grech on Tuesday. They suggest that the morning march, usually organised on a Sunday at around 11 a.m., should be held on Saturday.

The reason behind this, diocesan pastoral secretary Giovanni Curmi explained, was to dedicate Sunday to religious activities.

Moreover, the college is recommending that the march should not start before Mass ends and should be over by 2 p.m.

Fr Curmi said activities should be in keeping with a religious celebration and should not be turned into a carnival. Certain behaviour that featured in some village feast marches - including excessive drinking, drenching other people with water, swearing and name calling and even drug taking - were most inappropriate.

He cited the importance of not spending too much money on outdoor activities such as fireworks displays. He said a Gozo parish had collected money for charity and money for the feast.

He stressed, however, that these recommendations were not impositions but guidelines.

Speaking to The Times, Bishop Grech said that while marches where not in themselves religious, they brought about feelings of happiness - an important aspect of religion - and promoted community life.

Feasts, he said, were close to people's hearts because they offered them an opportunity to celebrate their faith. They also brought people together and gave them a chance to express their artistic talents.

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