We have been called upon to make many sacrifices in recent weeks to halt the spread of the insidious and deadly COVID-19 virus that poses great risk to everyone and everything we hold dear. 

New terms have come into being, such as social-distancing and self-isolation; while we have had to adopt practices that seemed unthinkable just a few weeks ago, the cruellest being not being able to see in the flesh members of our own families.

Lives have been lost or turned upside down, livelihoods placed at risk, and many are understandably fearful of living in a state of uncertainty.

Modern technology has alleviated some of the anguish, but we all yearn for things to return to ‘normal’ as soon as possible – not least the vulnerable and elderly among us who have been forced into solitude.

We are all hurting.

It was immensely painful for me as a bishop to celebrate Easter in a virtually empty chapel. But at the same time, it has been a humbling and spiritually uplifting experience to give faithful witness to the suffering endured by Jesus Christ crucified.

COVID-19 has been our cross and bear it we shall because we are committed to the national effort to overcome the immense challenge before us. Many accounts have emerged that give us hope: of survival, of solidarity and stories of carers making a heroic effort – at great personal risk – to save the lives of others. I salute them all.

I also pay tribute to all the priests and religious who are providing support and comfort to those in need. As a Church, we will be hosting 100 carers at the Archbishop’s Seminary while a further 50 are residing at Mount St Joseph. We will continue to do all we can to be of service to the Maltese community which is so dear to us.

We cannot have a heart of flesh for Maltese and a heart of stone for foreigners

Charity may indeed begin at home. But home is certainly not where it should end, especially for Christians, and Easter is a period of reflection and renewal that invites each of us to ask ourselves a fundamental question: do we wish to have a heart of flesh or a heart of stone?

If we claim to have a heart of flesh, we cannot forget about the refugees living in crowded conditions at Malta’s open centres, where there has been a coronavirus outbreak; if we claim to have a heart of flesh, we cannot forget about fellow human beings – children among them – who are in distress in the sea around us while we seek safe refuge wherever we find it.

As our medics and carers exemplify every day, saving lives can never be considered an option. It is a moral imperative that can neither be negotiated nor renounced. If we have a heart of flesh, we must recognise that stricken migrants are also our brothers and sisters.

In his Easter message, Pope Francis prayed that Jesus may grant hope “to all the poor, to those living on the peripheries, to refugees and the homeless”. He went on: “This is not a time for indifference… or self-centredness… because the whole world is suffering and needs to be united.”

The Church will continue doing what it has done for many years – offering our resources to migrants in distress.

We acknowledge, of course, that the EU needs to do more to support poor nations and their citizens. But, as the pope said, we also need to recognise ourselves “as part of a single family and support one another”.

In other words, we cannot have a heart of flesh for Maltese and a heart of stone for foreigners. The test we face as a nation – in our Malta, which literally means “safe haven” and is renowned for its cherished hospitality – is to choose whether our destiny lies in having a heart of flesh for everyone or no heart at all.

Let us not fail.

Charles J Scicluna, Archbishop of Malta

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