Archbishop Joseph Mercieca has died. He was the Archbishop of the Malta from 1976 to 2006, and succeeded the formidable Monsignor Gonzi, who had been Archbishop for as long as anyone could remember. (In fact Monsignor Gonzi was Archbishop from 1943-1976, but seemed to have been there for an eternity, being over 90 when he retired.)
Some people thought Monsignor Mercieca was weak, but this was not the case. He was certainly very different from Monsignor Gonzi, who was a powerful prelate indeed.
Monsignor Mercieca was a gentle soul, but that did not make him a push over. He had to confront a very aggressive anti-Church campaign by the then Prime Minister, Dom Mintoff, but as Mintoff later admitted, he was a formidable opponent, simply because he was such a good and holy priest.
I met the archbishop but once. He was making his solitary way into the Cathedral in Mdina, via the side door, and I was just leaving the Cathedral, so I fell to one knee and introduced myself. This would have been about twenty-five years ago.
He was unforgettably warm and fatherly: a true bishop and shepherd of souls. No doubt there were thousands of people who crossed his path who went away feeling they had net a good and holy man, and seen something of the love of God in their meeting with the archbishop.
The archbishop’s funeral was yesterday in Saint John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta, one of the world’s most beautiful churches; and his burial follows in the Cathedral in Mdina, a splendid baroque church that stands on a site first consecrated, we believe, by Saint Paul.
The contemporary Church can learn a great deal, I think, from the example of Monsignor Mercieca, his humility, gentleness and faith. May he rest in peace!