3. One Holy People of God in Malta: our land, our history, our expression of faith

“We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (Lk 24:21)

The Christian life is cruciform. In daily life, we journey horizontally, moving from our homes to workplaces, from our schools to leisure places, from our churches to the peripheries, and increasingly even in digital spaces. We journey ahead while constantly aware that our story of faith, passed on to us by our ancestors, opens us up vertically to the hope of the Parousia. “Time is greater than space” (Evangelii gaudium, 222‑225) because time bridges every moment of our God‑willed created existence to the eschaton. But that existence is ordered to community as God is Communion; that “life” given finds its fulfilment in ecclesiality, where we are transformed to a Holy People of God bound in the love of the Holy Spirit and the joy of the original kerygma. The universality of the Church rests upon the manifold unique expressions of being “God’s Holy People.”

Catholicity is the testimony of each of humanity’s distinct “peoples”, who together embody the dazzling beauty of God’s salvation and divinisation promised on all flesh.

“As this broken bread was once scattered on the mountains, and after it had been brought together became one, so may your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth unto Your Kingdom” (Didache 9.4).

The uniqueness of every people is expressed in its particular culture. In being the “whole greater than the sum of parts” (Evangelii gaudium, 234‑237) that reflects a people’s ethos or soul, culture is also the rich soil in which the people’s distinctive witness of the Good News grows to bear fruit.

Three aspects build a “people” to become a true ecclesia, a unique “Holy People of God”: land, history, their expression of faith. These remind us

  • that we must appropriate a posture of reconciliation—of stitching the tears with our past, with each other, with the rest of creation, and ultimately with God;
  • that we must invest in the formation of every disciple called to be like Christ to serve as his “body” to be stewards of culture;
  • that, like Mary, we must turn our gaze to the Father as we are emboldened to be grateful and, without ceasing, contemplate the mercy He has shown upon us, His People.
  • Only thus can we be missioned as body of Christ in our land.

In his encyclical Laudato si’, Pope Francis calls for an “ecological conversion,” where just relations among all members of society—indeed, how they come together to build a “civilisation of love”—also assume a devoted stewardship of the earth and the natural environment. Greed plunders not merely from the possessions of others, but ultimately from the earth itself. It destroys economic, social and political relations. But finally, it destroys the people themselves who become disconnected from the “mother”—the earth, the sea, the air—that gives them life.

Being attuned to how all is interconnected—to how the unique identity of a people flourishes through the particular physical, social, cultural reality that they are gestated into—allows them to be truly sensitive to how God encounters his people in their particular reality. As Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, God encourages their personal ongoing conversion, to become a people who build a nation, that contributes to the healing of the whole ecology. Pope Francis encourages an integral ecological conversion that places human life and human dignity at the centre.

Every generation must aim not only to birth and nurture its children, but also to undo the mistakes of the past, to finish what their forebears left undone, and to fulfil their hopes and aspirations. History shapes us not only in our bodies—we carry the genes of those who came before us. It also recreates our collective soul, as we carry the remnants of stories that shaped past lives and we are entrusted with passing them on to future generations.

History is, after all, about the realm of the dead still palpable among the living. In our Christian tradition, it is about the souls for whose purgation we pray that they may see God face to face; it is about the saints whom we venerate and whose intercession we humbly ask for. Ultimately, it is about the “communion of saints” who truly worships together not only across space, but throughout time and for eternity.

But being anchored in our history is not about being nostalgic for the past; it is about receiving our stories, consuming their pathos, and learning their (often) harsh moral lessons, to live together responsibly in the present. Dismissing the past, on the other hand, or pretending it never happened, is enslaving; because what fails to be appropriated will exert its influence deterministically, robbing a people of its freedom.

This dynamic is nowhere as evident as in divisions and strife that perpetuate mutual (blind) scapegoating and cycles of violence and brokenness. Breaking such cycles is not about dismissing differences, but about working through them through dialogue, healing and reconciliation.

Popular devotions, as expression of the People’s spontaneous prayer chiselled in memory because inspired by their lived realities, reveal the most intimate aspect of their relationship with God. Prayer that emerges spontaneously and naturally from the culture is a rich expression of how God encounters the People, at kairos moments of their ecclesial journey, deepening their faith. Whether praise or lament, petition or thanksgiving, popular expressions of the faith echoing the story of salvation can reflect the community’s most authentic becoming as Church: as God’s chosen Holy People.

But when disconnected from the lived memory of the whole Church in Scripture and Tradition—that is, when popular local expressions become mere “traditions” that perpetuate pika or serve the market economy rather than God—the People’s prayer is not only impoverished, but the “body” itself becomes fragmented. Then, the Church betrays herself: whether through reducing prayer and liturgy to mere ritual; through the factions’ drive to one‑upmanship; or through hedonism replacing devotion. Reconnecting with our spiritual roots—with our ancestors’ memory of being “one Holy People of God”—becomes essential.