Yesterday was a special day for St George’s parish and its community; H.L. Mgr Guzeppi Mercieca, Archbishop Emeritus of Malta, an esteemed son of St George’s parish, presided over a Pontifical Concelebration at 11.00am, which was animated by the Laudate Pueri Choir of the basilica.
During this year 2012, Archbishop Mercieca is commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. Mgr Mercieca was ordained by the then Bishop of Gozo Mgr Guzeppi Pace at St James’ Church in Victoria on the 8th of March 1952, together with another priest from the parish, Dun Saver Calleja, today Primicerius of the Collegiate Chapter. He then celebrated his first Solemn High Mass at St George’s; he was only twenty-three years old when he was ordained, thus needing a special dispensation from Rome for his ordination.
Guzeppi Mercieca was born at his parents’ house in Providence Street, around the corner from St George’s parish church, on the 11th of November 1928. He attended the Government’s Primary School in Victoria and then entered the Diocesan Seminary where he began his studies which were to lead him to the priesthood.
He later served as rector of the Gozo Major Seminary between 1958 and 1969 and on the 20th of July 1974 he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Malta and nominated Titular Bishop of Gemellæ in Numidia. On the 29th of November 1976 he was appointed Metropolitan Archbishop of Malta, succeeding Mgr Sir Michael Gonzi. The bishop-consecrators at his ordination for the episcopate were Mgr Michael Gonzi, Mgr Nicholas J. Cauchi and Bishop Francesco Ricceri.
Mass on Sunday 18 March was presided by Mgr Mercieca himself. The Bishop of Gozo Mgr Mario Grech was also among the main concelebrants together with Mgr Mercieca’s brother.
At the beginning of the Mass, the Bishop of Gozo Mgr Grech referred to the humble traits of Mgr Mercieca and said that the retired Archbishop was not a prelate after honours. Bishop Grech referred indirectly to the turbulent times of Mercieca’s thirty-year long episcopate and stated clearly that hard times characterised his episcopal office. During his homily, which was also characterised by Mercieca’s renowned simple but engaging style, the retired prelate referred to his Gozitan roots and to the years of his boyhood spent in the old quarters of Rabat, within the shadows of St George’s Basilica itself.
At the end of Mass, Archpriest Mgr Pawlu Cardona read a short message in which he mentioned the Archbishop’s Baptism at St George’s on the 14th of November 1928 and his first Solemn High Mass on Sunday the 27th of April 1952. He quoted a phrase from Psalm 113:9 stating that today St George’s parish was “like a mother happy with her children”. Then an artistic painting featuring Preti’s main altarpiece at the basilica was given as a gift to the Archbishop. Mgr Mercieca then gave his native parish the very chalice which was given to him as a gift at his priestly ordination by his two uncle-priests, Mgr Gorg and Mgr Anton Mercieca.
Also present for this special celebration one could notice the Gozo Delegation of the Knights of Malta and the flag of the Order beside the main altar. Archbishop Guzeppi Mercieca is also a Conventual Chaplain Grand Cross of the Sovreign Military Order of St John. Afterwards, the Archbishop was also presented with a gift by a member of the Order.
The festivities came to an and with a special dinner which was held at the parish centre in honour of the eighty-four year old Archbishop; canons, priests and members of his family were present and the Bishop of Gozo honoured the gathering.