Request by journalist Scott Grech:

“I am asking some of those who met the late Pope for their thoughts and reflections following their encounters with His Holiness. Since you met him as Leader of the Opposition during his second visit to Malta in 2001 and, if I’m not mistaken, having also attended his funeral ceremony in 2005, would you care to share some of your thoughts with us about both these two occasions?”

—“As Leader of the Opposition I was invited to the Palace for a meeting with Pope John Paul II during his 2001 visit to Malta. It only amounted to a short introduction and handshake, the Pope already looking frail and tired. My mother accompanied me and she was greatly moved. As far as I can recall, no other members of the Labour Opposition were invited, with reasons of protocol being brought forward as an excuse. The occasion was dominated by cabinet members and other PN dignitaries all out to hog the event, media and personality wise, which left a bitter taste in the mouth. It was palpable that in the long run up to the EU referendum campaign, the party in government wanted to play up the Pope’s visit as an endorsement of their regime.
In 2005, I attended Pope John Paul’s funeral as a member of the official Maltese delegation. Arrangements on this occasion were professional from beginning to end. The ceremony on St Peter’s Square was dignified and projected well I thought, the sincere grief felt by many at the Pope’s death.
On another tack, I got an interesting insight into how the Vatican under Pope John Paul II’s watch considered Malta during a confidential meeting with Vatican Secretary of State Angelo Sorano in late 1996/early1997. To my surprise, Cardinal Sorano was mainly interested to learn whether the then Labour government wanted to bring any changes to the local marriage law, which had been amended some years previously to ensure that for marriages celebrated in Church, only Church annulments would be possible. This confirmed my view that the salience of marriage and how it is regulated in Malta, is due to its importance as a tool of social control. During our meeting, Secretary of State Sorano also touched briefly on the financing of Catholic schools, to which the previous PN government had failed to pay annual subsidies totaling several million Maltese liri.”

MALTA INDEPENDENT, 30th APRIL 2011