Sunday Mass attendance in Malta and Gozo dropped by almost 11 per cent in 10 years, but the Archbishop, though worried, is not alarmed given the radical influences penetrating the islands.
Just over half the population, 52.6 per cent, hear Mass on Sunday with the lowest attendances witnessed in the age groups 15 to 24 (37.3 per cent) and 25 to 49 (41.3 per cent). Turnout in Malta stands at 51 per cent, while in Gozo it is 72.7 per cent.
These preliminary results emerged from the Sunday Mass Attendance Census released yesterday by Discern, the Institute for Research on the Signs of the Times at a press conference attended by Archbishop Joseph Mercieca and Gozo Bishop Mario Grech.
"Of course I am worried by the situation, but despite the storm, 52.6 per cent is still good, especially in the light of what Churches in Europe are experiencing," Mgr Mercieca said.
"While Sunday Mass is at the core of Christianity, this does not mean people have lost their faith and many are still presenting their children to receive the sacraments."
The next mission now was to carry out further research to establish what was keeping people away from Sunday Mass, he said.
Provisional results indicate that attendance in Maltese parishes ranges from 36.2 per cent to 87.5 per cent, while in Gozo the range is between 51.5 per cent to 86.1 per cent.
Trying to gauge regular attendance, the results show that one in 10 Maltese attendees and one in 15 Gozitans did not attend Mass the Sunday prior to census Sunday.
Numbers have been dwindling with every census - in 1982 there were 75.1 per cent of Maltese and Gozitans who went to Mass on Sunday, down to 63.4 per cent in 1995 and 52.6 per cent in 2005.
The Church has not seen healthy figures in attendances since 1967 when the first census was carried out in Malta (and not in Gozo) and the majority, 81.9 per cent, turned up for Mass. Extrapolating a trend from these figures, Discern director Fr Joe Inguanez said that at this rate, by 2045 nobody would be going to Mass on Sunday. However, pastoral work could reverse the trend.
Going through the salient points, Fr Inguanez said that for reasons of work or recreation Mass on Saturday evening proved to be quite popular with 28.8 per cent of Maltese and 21.4 per cent of Gozitans choosing this option.
Females seemed to be more concerned about their soul, with 54.7 per cent (53.4 per cent in Gozo) showing up for Mass as opposed to 45.3 per cent of males (46.6 per cent in Gozo). It is indicative that one fifth of attendees (20.1 per cent in Malta and 19.6 per cent in Gozo) are pensioners, while another fifth (20.6 per cent in Malta and 20.3 per cent in Gozo) are students.
Married people are the largest group of Mass attendees on both islands, with more persons who are separated in Malta going to Mass than in Gozo, and more divorcees in Gozo than in Malta.
The Church does not allow a separated person who is in another relationship to receive communion, as this is considered moral disorder. However, Mgr Mercieca said they were welcome to attend Mass.
"I am not saying the law of God is easy. God knows we are weak, but every sinner has a future. Do not be disheartened and do not stay away from Church because this is where you will be cleansed," he said.
An encouraging result that emerged from the census is that one in five of Maltese (22 per cent) and one in four Gozitan attendees (26.1 per cent) are members of a Catholic organisation. Diocesan pastoral secretary Fr Charles Cordina said these could be tapped to improve attendances.
Commenting on the results, Mgr Mercieca appealed to parents to set an example by taking their children to Mass on Sunday and praying together.
"This is also the time for pastoral people to be convinced of the urgent need of evangelisation and catechism, especially among adolescents and young people," he said.
It was the bishops' wish to call an inter-diocesan liturgical pastoral congress to discern what God wants from the local Church in the circumstances.
The Church has put together a series of initiatives on how Mass could be celebrated in a more appealing way, such as a course for seminarians on how to deliver the homily, among others.
"We appeal to everybody to understand the importance of Mass on Sundays in our Christian journey through life."