Last May, while Rome was under lockdown for the Covid-19 pandemic, Pope Francis initiated a global year-long process of reflection inspired by his encyclical Laudato Si` “On the care of our common home.” To stress the urgency of living this teaching, on August 5th, he also launched a catechetical series “On healing the world” addressed to the whole Church.
Laudato Si` is an invitation to everyone to rethink our global economy, how we understand our being in the world, even our personal priorities. Covid-19 has exposed even more how injustice not only harms the most vulnerable but ultimately, makes all of us victims of our misdirected freedom. Pope Francis does not intend to sit back and watch the world implode; hence why he insists that “the care of our common home” is not just a matter of moral leadership, but of fulfilling the Christian vocation of “healing the world” for our times.
For the next months, and together with many others, here at rethink.mt we will also journey on the path of Laudato Si` to rethink-through-dialogue as citizens and as Church in Malta. Still, a crucial first step must orient our common journey: clarifying what “Christian as agent of healing in society” actually means, and thus, pondering seriously the relation between “Church and state” in a secular, plural and increasingly digital Malta.
Catholic Malta: Culture or Faith?
In “Catholic Malta” it might not be easy to separate one’s perception of “Church” from majestic temples, imposing historical figures, or even one’s friendly (or not) kappillan. These symbols permeate our Maltese psyche and fill it with nostalgia—or dread. But even those who know better than to equate “Church” to Catholic cultural symbols, they too tend to reduce “Church” to legalism, or to water down “being Church” to such an extent that it becomes indistinguishable from secular culture. Whether liberal or conservative, such views are as rigid and cheap in their ecclesiology as those whom they label as the opposite faction, or as having naïve faith.
But these assumptions are not only simplistic: they are dangerous, since they collapse the tension between gospel and culture, and therefore between Church and society. On the contrary, Pope Francis insists that it is precisely the quality of this “tension” that must guide the way how Christians understand their mission in society—without it being off-putting to the many “others” who share with them the same land and home.
This complex middle way is an active participation in Christ’s salvific mission, through a process of “rethinking-through-dialogue.” But what concrete form should it take in Maltese society?
One Church, One Journey: Rethinking-through-dialogue in Malta
The recent local Church document One Church, One Journey presents three gospel images that can inspire a process of dialogue-oriented to mutual conversion: being “prophetic light, hidden salt and life-giving leaven.”
Being “light” is about guiding the path through speaking (moral) truth with clarity and tenderness. Even if we might claim that moral opinions are relative, we all make concrete choices that not only have consequences in reality, but that shape our character. Telling lies might be expedient, occasionally even understandable, but no one would want a liar as their best friend. Rather, words-that-enlighten, communicate courage and hope that bridge differences (rather than deepen divisions) in a common search for a shared good life.
Being “salt” is as a “hidden agent” that preserves by enhancing: it discerns, between what memories and traditions of the land must claim us, and those that we must let go of. Being salt is thus about remembering “our Maltese stories”—indeed, about living the memory that makes us “truly Maltese.” It is the recognition that what is at stake is precisely which stories control people’s minds and hearts. Memories of welcoming hospitality, of being grateful for the fruits of land and sea, of generosity towards the poor, of resilience in the face of adversity, of being diverse peoples who learnt to live peaceably … not only bring back to life our history—but could inspire our future too.
Being “leaven” is a mode of presence that reveals strength in our vulnerability. As we accompany one another, we grow as one nation that celebrates unity-in-diversity. We learn basic attitudes of neighborliness and friendship in a culture that tends simultaneously to tribalism and atomism. It inspires us not “to be positive,” but to be truly wise in seeking sustainable economic solutions, prudent political processes, and the protection of all through just laws.
Laudato Si` is a word that seeks to enlighten, to inspire and to share evocative stories about our human journey in the world. But it needs “missionary disciples” to be the light, salt and leaven to bring it to others so it can be critically owned and lived by all—for a better shared future in our “common home.”