I visited Malta last year when I was leading a church delegation to meet Prime Minister Muscat and his colleagues as Malta took up the EU Council Presidency. But I had not been to St. Paul’s Pro-Cathedral since I was installed there nearly four years ago. So this was a visit to which I was eagerly looking forward. And on this occasion, I was accompanied by Canon Paul Vrolijk from Brussels, with the intention of building relations between our two Pro-Cathedrals in Brussels and Malta.
Our diocese operates between two poles. One pole is networked, mobile, transitional. But our three cathedrals represent the other pole: rooted, stable, incarnational. St. Paul’s is an impressive Grade 1 listed building, its spire the tallest in Malta and a vital part of the Valletta skyline. It is a most tangible reminder of the rootedness of our diocese in the continent we serve.
The Cathedral’s yellow sandstone is gorgeous. But: oh my goodness – that roof doesn’t look in good condition at all! Indeed, the regular falling of sand or worse makes Fr. Simon Godfrey’s (the Pro-Cathedral’s Chancellor) path to his front door a hazardous walk.
The need for urgent work on the building means St. Paul’s is therefore engaged in a 3 million euro restoration project. This is a huge endeavour under the joint chairmanship of Sir Martin Laing and Mr. Martin Scicluna and involving some 40 people in various committees. They have done exceptionally well to secure a major EU funding bid with a second even larger bid in the offing.
The undercroft has already been transformed. It houses a professionally run café and a small shop, with a large screen video running to explain the life and work of the Pro-Cathedral. There are further exciting plans to develop the Pro-Cathedral as a major tourist attraction.
Rather unusually for our diocese, the Anglican Church in Malta is the proud owner of one or two items of treasure, including a gorgeous silver crozier. I was pleased to leave it in Malta in safekeeping rather than entrust it to the various airline baggage handlers that a mobile bishop has to use.
Whilst in Valletta, we called upon Archbishop Charles Scicluna. It was a real delight to see Archbishop Charles again. In addition to looking after the Catholic church in Malta, he also leads on investigating child abuse cases within the Church. This coming week, that aspect of his work takes him to Chile. Archbishop Charles could hardly be more welcoming to Anglicans in Malta and is also one of the angels of light in some dark aspects of church life. I encourage members of the Diocese in Europe to pray for him in his work.
Canon Paul Vrolijk and I were superbly hosted and entertained by Fr. Simon Godfrey during our stay in Malta. In an earlier life, Simon was a naval officer. He was, he told us, one of the last graduates of Dartmouth to be trained in how to board a ship armed with a sword. Here he brandishes a marvellous ceremonial sword – a sign of the church militant perhaps?
St. Paul’s Pro-Cathedral is engaged in much the biggest building project in our diocese. Simon has assembled a team of impressive seniority and skill to help the Pro-Cathedral. Many of them are Roman Catholics. Animating a venture on this scale requires particular skills and charisma. May God bless Simon and his colleagues in Malta richly as they seek to sustain and develop the heritage of St. Paul’s for the benefit of this and future generations.