Archbishop Joseph Mercieca
Archbishop Emeritus of Malta
|11 Nov 1928||Born||Victoria|
|8 Mar 1952||23.3||Ordained Priest||Priest|
|20 Jul 1974||45.7||Appointed||Auxiliary Bishop of Malta|
|20 Jul 1974||45.7||Appointed||Titular Bishop of Gemellae in Numidia|
|29 Sep 1974||45.9||Ordained Bishop||Titular Bishop of Gemellae in Numidia|
|29 Nov 1976||48.0||Appointed||Archbishop of Malta|
|2 Dec 2006||78.1||Retired||Archbishop of Malta|
|Episcopal Lineage / Apostolic Succession:
Archbishop Mgr Joseph Mercieca was born in Victoria on November 11, 1928. He was educated at the Gozo seminary and continued his studies at the Gregorian and Lateran universities in Rome.
He was ordained priest on March 8, 1952.
Between 1959 and 1969, Pope Paul VI appointed him judge of the Roman Rota. This is an ordinary court of appeal for cases referred to the Holy See. It is best known for its competence and decisions in cases involving the validity of marriages.
He was also adviser of the Congregation for the Sacraments and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
On July 27, 1974, he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop to the late Archbishop Mgr Michael Gonzi. Two months later, on September 29, he was consecrated Bishop in a ceremony at St John's Co-Cathedral led by Mgr Gonzi.
On December 12, 1976, Mgr Mercieca was installed as Archbishop of Malta following Mgr Gonzi's retirement after 36 years of service.
On June 11, 1991, Mgr Mercieca was nominated member of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature, whose main tasks are to resolve questions dealing with juridical procedure and to supervise the observance of laws and rights at the highest level. It decides the jurisdictional competence of lower courts and has jurisdiction in cases involving personnel and decisions of the Rota. It is the supreme court of the state of Vatican City.
He was succeeded by Bishop Paul Cremona following retirement in 2006.
(Excerpt from Sunday Times January 28, 2007 by Joe Brincat)
It is appropriate, in my view, to consider the impact that the episcopate of Archbishop Joseph Mercieca has left and will leave on Maltese life. This is not limited to his own specific area of competence. He has influenced the lifestyle of the Maltese, and this to the benefit of all.
To put it succinctly, he has transformed the image of the Church from one of power to one of a mission in favour of society. This does not mean that he has transformed the teaching of the Church to accommodate tendencies which are incompatible with that teaching. He transformed the way that message was delivered; then it is for the individual to follow.
Those of us who have seen other times were impressed when we saw him driving his own car to Valletta. That appeared strange, coming after a time when the Archbishop had all the trappings of power and his chauffeur-driven car competed with those of the powerful. That was a minor sign of the times that were changing. The Church was also driven by another motor. What was important was the teaching, rather than the teacher.
One may say that this was possible after Vatican Council II. When one remembers the stance taken by one of our bishops in that Council, that the Church is a perfect society and therefore there should be no change, because you cannot change what is perfect for the better, one can easily understand that the change could not only come from Rome, but it had to be translated in the local context. That is what Archbishop Mercieca did. This does not mean that he did not meet resistance from quarters which are close to the Church and where tradition still prevailed. Although he was always a cautious man, he never failed to put his foot down in matters concerning local parishes, such as feasts, where tradition showed all signs that Christianity was only a pretext for pique and fighting.
Archbishop Mercieca's major contribution was to dissociate the Church from party politics. He did it in a very inconspicuous way. That did not stop him from propounding the teaching of the Church, but he embarked on a patient exercise to make all feel they were entitled to be within the Church.
Although it may sound sore, the memory of the Sixties still lingered in many people's minds, and those times were not easily forgotten. In my view, religious sensitivities cut deeper and take longer to heal. Archbishop Mercieca, without proclaiming any such intent to forget the past, in his own silent manner turned a new leaf, without also hurting the other side.
His political neutrality did not emanate from any declaration. It was quite by accident, if one may say so. His concentration on the Gospel, its true universal meaning applicable to all men, without innuendoes to suit any political opinion, made it comfortable for everyone to feel included, whatever their political beliefs.
Together with another Gozitan, Mgr Nikol Cauchi, the Bishop of Gozo, the pastoral letters were concerned with the teaching of values. In former times, such pastoral letters were manifestoes, sometimes overtly other times covertly, supporting one political view rather than another.
Archbishop Mercieca's style, if I may interpret it, was not to denounce and condemn, but to show by example, by word and sometimes even by patient silence that there was something that was not right.
This opinion was formed at a very difficult time for him. Those who remember the Church schools question must certainly remember his patience. It was almost expected of him that he should head a crusade with public procession and fiery messages, not very different from the political debate.
That situation could easily have exploded into another clash between Church and State, and although it might have been resolved on the face of it by a general election which overturned the government of the day, the spiritual damage that would have ensued would have lasted for decades. There are still a few who still remember the times of Lord Strickland and the conflict between the Church and the Labour Party in the Sixties.
Mgr Mercieca has drawn up a new roadmap for the Church in Malta. This should make it easier for his worthy successor, Archbishop Paul Cremona. Some friends have told me that Archbishop Cremona had dedicated his life as a spiritual leader, both as a parish priest and also as spiritual director, with a patience to match.
I am sure that Archbishop Cremona will follow in the path traced by Mgr Mercieca, and that the image of the Church in Maltese society would be that values are what count, rather than the imagery and the pomp. Archbishop Mercieca phased out the transition from a Church bound by useless traditions to a greater accent on personal responsibility.
To Mgr Mercieca, my word of thanks. To his successor, Archbishop Cremona, my sincere wish to continue in the same mission
(Excerpt from Sunday Times January 21, 2007)
The thanksgiving Mass celebrated last Thursday (January 18, 2007) was a beautiful send-off for Archbishop Joseph Mercieca.
The number of concelebrating priests and the large congregation were a sign of the appreciation of the Maltese people for the work done by Mgr Mercieca.
The day started on a very positive note when the government's Department of Information released a letter of thanks sent by President Eddie Fenech Adami to Archbishop Mercieca. Dr Fenech Adami described Mgr Mercieca's episcopate as "wise and prudent". The President's words represented the feeling of the active and large congregation that filled St John's Co-Cathedral in the evening.
The 30-year episcopate of Mgr Mercieca was heavily marked with stormy relations between the Church and the state. The Archbishop had to carry that unenviable cross for years on end. He suffered in silence. One should remember how difficult it was to adopt a winning strategy in those difficult times.
Mgr Mercieca was surrounded by an angry mob twice - at Paola and Vittoriosa - and had to seek refuge inside a building. A bomb was placed on the doorstep of his palace at Mdina. The Curia was ransacked. He never panicked. He never showed anger or resentment. He never said anything that could add fuel to the fire.
History has shown that his stance was substantially correct and his prudence, together with that of others, helped this country to avoid uncontrollable violence, if not civil war. He was not bent on confrontation. On the contrary, he was wrongly accused of a defeatist attitude.
His critics were mistaken. The very tactical and greatly effective moves, which at that time seemed to be retreats, were in fact real advances. The end results - also helped by a change in government in 1987 - were the most positive the Church could hope for in the circumstances.
Archbishop Mercieca was also wise enough to hold fast on principles - the Church schools and the property struggles involved important principles - without alienating the grass roots of the Labour Party who initiated the same battles.
The other big front for Mgr Mercieca was the relationship between the Church and a pluralist society. His preparation for this front was not as good as his preparation for the Church-State front. Someone better culturally prepared could have achieved better results in this area.
Secularisation has made strong inroads. But, to be fair, one must add that this applies to several other counties. Even here, Mgr Mercieca took a number of courageous stands. Anyone who leafs through his published speeches can see that the Archbishop was not the silent prelate that many perceived him to be.
His homily last Thursday is another example of what we have just written. His defence of the family was a hallmark of his episcopate and marked it till the very end.
In 30 years he never found time to start and conclude a pastoral visit to Malta's parishes. That is a notable minus. He believed in persons more than in structures but he radically restructured the Curia. He also was the first bishop in hundreds of years to hold a diocesan synod. The positive effects of this synod are still being felt and experienced gradually.
The work done during the Synod should provide Archbishop Cremona with a very good launching pad.
Archbishop Mercieca was humble, approachable and unassuming. He cared about the feeling and needs of others. His was more of a socio-humane-oriented kind of leadership than a task-oriented one.
But his limited managerial skills sometimes created - unwillingly - problems for different individuals. Nevertheless, he helped thousands of people in characteristic silent - almost secret - manner.
Thirty years is a very long time. One cannot assess it in a few words. His contribution was very great, his generosity greater and his dedication was the greatest. We wish him a long life of service to the Church at the local and international level. We augur that he could also find the time to rest and perhaps do those things that he would have liked to do but could not because of his onerous position.
Thank you, Mgr Mercieca.