Archbishop Charles Scicluna delivered a pointed message against “stratifying” society between Maltese and foreigners during pontifical mass in Floriana, where he also mourned the loss of the historic St Publius arch.

The Archbishop said in his sermon, on the occasion of the Feast of St Publius, that the 120-year old wooden arch had been part of the heritage of the parish and an expression of the town’s devotion, as well as that of the whole country.

Those behind its destruction, believed to be an act of arson, must face justice, he said.

“I join with those who mourn its loss, but what we need now is not tears but the determination to ensure that nobody can take from us what we hold dear,” he said. “Today it was a wooden arch; what could it be tomorrow? We can never allow ourselves to stand by in the face of violence.”

Mgr Scicluna said that just as the arch should be rebuilt, so too should the values of “generosity, equality and human dignity” that the patron saint St Publius stood for.

“There can be no distinction between citizens and foreigners,” he said, noting specifically that Publius lived in a stratified society where manual work was reserved for those who were not citizens, but that he had welcomed St Paul and the shipwreck survivors, and had seen his father healed “in the name of a carpenter from a far-flung, unremarkable province”.

Though he did not reference it directly, his remarks came amid controversy over Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s comments during an interview that he would prefer to see foreigners, rather than Maltese, carrying out non-skilled jobs, such as collecting rubbish or working in the sun. Activists have called the comments "racist and classist"

Opposition leader Adrian Delia has also been criticised for his choice of language concerning foreign residents. Just two weeks ago, he told a St Paul's Bay crowd that "clans" of foreigners were frightening children and that Malta was being overrun by outsiders who are "not of quality".

Mgr Scicluna picked up the theme again at a visit to the St Publius Band Club with President George Vella and other dignitaries after the mass, where he praised the spirit of unity in response to the destruction of the historic arch.

“Let us continue to promote our heritage, but also to think of those in need,” he appealed.

Dr Vella, attending the celebrations for the first time as President, expressed similar sentiments: “Just as St Publius accepted those of a different religion and beliefs, we can do much more to make outsiders feel welcome and to create a more inclusive society,” he told those gathered.

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