By DOUGLAS HYDE
who has rjust returned from a visit to Malta
Pattern changes for a faithful people
MALTA is an island filled with a seemingly endless supply of stones a n d people. It is an island of sunshine, smiles and colour. Yet it is today one of shadows as well.
The shadow of pending economic crisis and its possible political repercussions. is never far from the thoughts of those responsible for the temporal and spiritual welfare of its gay and generous people. The shadow of the impact of alien, disintegrating new ideas upon the old way of life is there too.
Malta is one of the few lands whose people have clung to the ancient Faith through 20 tumultuous centuries (Christianity came with St. Paul, who was shipwrecked off
Catholic whilst others have fallen away.
The churches of Malta are busy centres of a great popular devotion. Masses follow each other at half-hourly intervals for hours on end in scores of churches in town and country. All are packed and the number of daily communicants is extremely high.
Almost every organisation, from hand clubs to State schools, has its chaplain. Government departments are consecrated to the Sacred Heart and electric votive lights burn before holy pictures in Ministers' waiting rooms.
The age-old devotion to Our Lady reflects itself in the many beautiful and costly statues and pictures, such as those in the great Carmelite church in Valletta and in the cavern-church at St. Paul's Bay, which are venerated by thousands.
There is no shortage of vocations, for there are a priest and a nun to every 300 of the population.
Yet today the old way of life, ancient practices, even the Faith itself, are being challenged in a dozen different ways. No one can say what will be the pattern of the island's life even 10 years from now. It may be better, it could be a very great deal worse, One thing is certain, it will not be what it has been in the past.
CAN the night of Malta's great
'national feast I stood on the balcony of the Catholic Action headquarters in the dockside town of Senglea, one of the worstbombed places on the George Cross island, but today gleaming with brave new buildings, built from the lovely creamy-white, malleable stone whose profusion is the joy of the mason and the despair of the peasant-farmer.
Below a team of strong men carrying a staggeringly heavy statue of Our Lady, and led by priests holding lighted candles, inched its way through singing, laughing, cheering crowds. The streets were gay with coloured lights, put there and paid for by the people themselves; houses had been repainted and buildings redecorated for the occasion.
Silver confetti, dropped from above, gleamed on tonsured heads and those of layfolk, too. It sparkled from every fold of the statue's gracefully carved garments. Bands Played, bells pealed out on the hot night air, a searchlight attached to the church at which the procession would end, picked out and remained focused on Our Lady's halo as she was borne up the hill.
On the flat roofs noisy fireworks greeted her with the rat-tat-tat of machine-gun fire, and rockets traced the course of her journey against the heavens. As he prepared to put a match to the great string of fireworks which wound like a snake across the roof, a laughing young Catholic Actionist told me : "There are 10 poundsworth here—they cost five pounds a minute."
Young men and women had freely sacrificed to buy that noisy, extravagant serenade to Our Lady. I do not hope ever to witness a more noisy. colourful scene. Yet somehow, through it all, it remained an act of worship.
THAT is one side of Malta's life, the old way, brought up to date with searchlights and electric bulbs—the way of popular devotion, of a faith which is felt and followed but not always necessarily deeply understood.
Challenging it today are the materialistic influences which come to all classes through films, radio and literature depicting an attitude to life quite unlike that which the Maltese have held in the past, and ideas of Marxist origin which are filtering down through the labour and trade union movement.
I talked one Sunday morning to a specially convened meeting of the General Workers' Union— largest and most influential in the island. The majority of the men were dock workers employed by British Service departments— sturdy, self-respecting types.
Their union, and the Labour movement generally, are recent growths, whose origins were largely inspired by Malta's Archbishop Michael Gonzi. But it has recently been moving quickly and unmistakably to the Left.
Among the union's leaders are some good practising Catholics, and the rank and file are overwhelmingly Catholic, too. Yet, whilst it is linked with the Socialistinspired unions of Europe, it has no contact with the International Federation of Christian Trades Unions. nor with the French, Belgian, Dutch, German, FrenchCanadian and other Catholic trade unionists who for years have been gaining experience in how to apply the Church's teachings in the difficult sphere of industrial relations. These, one feels, would be its natural kinsmen, yet its eyes aro turned to those who see a union's job as being to fight the class war in the old vicious way. In short, it is a union of Catholics, but not a Catholic union. it has no distinctively Christian approach to the urgent and complex social and economic problems which are the background to its industrial activities.
THIS anomalous situation has led almost inevitably to a growth in the influence of men who feel themselves to be standing somewhere to the Left of our own Aneurin Bevan. Whatever their intentions, the result is the spread of ideas which are fundamentally anti Christian among members of the organised Labour movement.
And when one examines the Malta Labour Party, led by the Oxford educated, Left winger Mintoff, with which the union is linked, this tendency is still more marked. To say that the party is Communist-dominated would be both an over-statement and an over-simplification, too. But it is fair to say that it is Communistinfluenced, for its policies tend to show a marked similarity to those of the Corninform itself.
This may be the result of some of the leaders consciously or unconsciously taking their cue from the Communists of other lands, or it may be an inevitable consequence of the belief that the only politics for Malta's workers today must be Left politics.
The result, however, is the spread of a mood and outlook which to a sympathetic onlooker seem curiously out of harmony with the religious practice and devotion of those who make up the hulk of the working-class electorate.
It has the appearance of the beginnings of that tendency which has been the undoing of more than one once-Catholic nation now threatened with Communism, a readiness to be led by politicians of "advanced" views who do not entirely share the faith of the people.
This situation is in part the result of the impact of ideas which are everywhere abroad in the world today. But it is also the con sequence of political and economic pressures which make easy the way of the extremist.
SUPERFICIALLY, Malta is en
joying an economic boom. There is the appearance of full employment and an almostcomplete absence of that squalid poverty one expects to see in Southern countries (although this is in part due to the cleanliness of the island and the natural pride of of the people themselves).
But the present prosperity flows directly, and deservedly, from the bomb-damage compensation paid by Britain, totalling with interest some thirty million pounds. When that money is exhausted, which will be within the next two or three years, what then? Nobody knows, 'except that unemployment is likely to he widespread unless Britain shows a willingness or an ability to start some sort of development schemes aimed at easing a situation where a country of 300,000 people imports some 90 per cent. of its food and essentials and lives in a state of permanent economic dependence upon us.
Universal compulsory education was introduced under British rule. But our Treasury, which holds the purse-strings, did not provide the cash to build the necessary schools. So many children, as Ministers admitted to me. get no more than 10 hours' schooling a week.
When the Government was offered a capital sum for school buildings and for extending the much-needed technical education, titurhea. had to refuse because it could not afford the recurrent expendi
That is a situation in which many of the best men leave politics in frustration, and those who re
main are left in frustration; where nationalism and Leftism both thrive.
"EMIGRATION is the only an swer," say some. But Mr. Cole, the keen, level-headed Minister of Emigration and Labour, knows that it is not an easy solution. Twenty-six thousand people, even under full employment, have emigrated since 1947, more were planning to go, but at this moment one country after another— America, Canada, Australia— seems to be closing its doors on the migrants from the over-populated areas of Europe.
Those doors have got to be opened again unless someone sooner or later is to be faced with the job of feeding and keeping a population largely reduced to idleness. More money has somehow to be made available for capital development (an eight million pound irrigation scheme would increase home food production and make light industries possible—using imported raw materials as does our own textile industry—which today cannot be developed because of a chronic water shortage).
All the politicians' plans for social welfare, for education and for industrial development depend today upon Britain, for this country holds the purse-strings.
Meanwhile, Malta's Catholic organisations are preparing to strengthen the island's defences by every means in their power against the worst that the modern world can do.