Given at the Episcopal Ordination of Mgr Carmelo Zammit as Bishop of Gibraltar in St Paul's Cathedral in Mdina, Malta on the Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 8 September 2016.
A powerful prayer stands at the heart of this ceremony of the ordination of Mgr Carmelo Zammit to the Order of Bishops. We pray to God as 'Father of mercies and God of all consolations' to 'pour out upon this chosen one that power which is from you, the governing Spirit whom you gave to your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the Spirit given by him to the holy apostles who founded your Church in every place to be your temple for the unceasing glory and praise of your name.'
It is a prayer which expresses our faith, not only in our loving heavenly Father and in the power of his Spirit, but also in his creation, the Catholic Church which stands in the line of apostles from its beginning to this day. It reaffirms our sense of purpose in the Church in every place: that of giving glory and praise to God.
Today we make this prayer, gathered from this community of Malta, from Gibraltar, from Great Britain, from different Churches, different faiths. We make this prayer in the company of Our Blessed Lady, Mother of the Church, whose birthday we celebrate today.
In making this prayer we ask of God a great and wonderful gift: that Mgr Carmelo leave this cathedral a changed man, a man on whom has been bestowed the astonishing gift of becoming a bishop, a successor of the apostles, a man endowed with new power and authority, a man now bound to Christ more deeply than ever before. In my humble experience, ordination as a bishop brings with it a more radical change than even the change wrought by ordination as a priest.
And so, Mgr Carmelo, our prayers are both for you and with you, today and always.
We have just heard words written by St Paul to his beloved companion, Timothy. How astonishing to think that the feet of this great apostle graced this island, maybe coming as close as a cave in nearby Rabat. I am sure he looks on this moment with his powerful gaze and prayer.
He speaks to us unambiguously. He speaks of this gift of God, given through the laying on of hands, as a summons to witness to Christ and to bear hardship willingly. We are to rely solely on the power of God, knowing that his grace comes to us freely, never because of anything we have done. So let's be clear: being a bishop is not a promotion, the consequence of success, but a gift, a calling, a new step on the pathway of holiness, given for God's own purpose and his own grace. Being a bishop is not a new opportunity to put one's own plans into action. It is a call to serve.
Yes, this grace for which we pray is the gift of the 'governing spirit.' But it is the Spirit of Jesus and therefore the governance to which it gives rise must be that of Jesus. And, in the Gospel today, Matthew tells us what that means. Governance in the name of Jesus has no trace of the patterns of this world's ways, 'lording it over them', 'making their authority felt.' Rather it is a primacy of service: 'anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave.' This is the governing spirit of episcopal office for which we pray today.
Shortly, Mgr Carmelo, you will make the promises of a bishop. They start with all the duties that you accept concerning faithful teaching and unity with our Holy Father Pope Francis. They are also equally emphatic in duties towards the poor and to strangers and to all who are in need. With these promises you undertake to 'seek out the sheep who stray and to gather them into the fold of the Lord.' And these promises make clear that you will only be able to fulfil them 'in cooperation with the priests and deacons who share your ministry’.
So at this point I offer a particular greeting to those priests, deacons and lay people who have made the journey from Gibraltar to be with you as their new bishop. These are the people whom you promise so solemnly to work with in close cooperation. Indeed, a favourite theme of Pope Francis is that of the 'closeness' which must exist between a bishop and his priests. In a bishop, he says, 'the priest must feel he has a father’. He continues: ‘If we take paternity away from priests, we cannot ask them to be fathers. And thus the sense of God’s paternity is removed. The Son’s work is to touch human miseries: spiritual and corporal. Closeness. The Father’s work: to be a father, a bishop-father.' In these words of Pope Francis is your calling.
The Diocese of Gibraltar, which is now being placed into your care, is a remarkable place, as you know so well. In its history, tradition and location it is, in many ways, a microcosm of Europe with all the dramas, dangers and opportunities of Europe today. The most ancient name of Gibraltar is Calpe, found now only in its Latin motto yet coming from the Phoenicians, its first inhabitants. The name Gibraltar comes from Islamic sources: Gibel Tarik and its history bears all the marks of long conflicts and changes of rulers.
My own visit to Gibraltar left powerful impressions on me: impressions of being at the gateway of Europe, of being in a place where people of different histories have found ways of living together, perhaps most powerfully demonstrated in the hidden Jewish cemetery which is on the south side of the Rock, looking away from the hostility to which those people were subjected.
To be bishop of such a place is, I believe, a privilege and a challenge. It is to be responsible for an outpost of Europe, a place where all that Europe strives to stand for is first to be met. The great Spanish writer, Ortega y Gasset, wrote that civilisation is above all the will to live together. That is what I found in Gibraltar.
It is more important than ever for the Church in Europe, and therefore in Gibraltar, to proclaim and practice those values and qualities that lie at the heart of European civilisation. These are truly fundamental values, that underpin derived values such as democracy, individual freedom, the rule of law and tolerance, important as they are. We must live and proclaim deeper values: the inalienable dignity of the person, from conception to natural death; the equality in dignity of every person; the freedom to live in truth and love. Flowing from these come the duty of accountability, the importance of deferring pleasure, the readiness to serve and the sense of vocation in life beyond profit and earthly inheritance. These values are not freestanding. They are not self-evident or self-justifying. Among us in Europe, they derive from their Judeo-Christian roots and will be sustained only within the context of our beliefs about human nature, the purpose of life and society. It is our task to live and to proclaim them and to remember other words of Ortega y Gasset that hatred is the one feeling which leads to the extinction of these values.
A highlight of my brief visit to Gibraltar was to go to the shrine of Our Lady of Europe, standing literally at the edge of Europe, and recently having celebrated its 700th anniversary. Today we pray for her maternal intercession, that this precious continent and heritage, to which we are all committed, may not lose its way or cease to live by its finest values. We pray that our witness, and the witness of this new bishop, will draw many to Christ in whom is the fullness of our humanity and who alone can save us from our fears and contradictions.
May Our Lady of Europe bless this son of Malta as he makes his journey to his new home. He has been called to the mouth of this Mediterranean Sea, whose waters carry day by day both such tragic loss of life and heroic generosity of service. May Our Blessed Lady bless your episcopal ministry and strengthen us all to fashion anew our witness to the Gospel and to the peace which is its gift, in Christ Jesus our Lord.