The President of Malta

Diskors mill-E.T. George Vella, President ta’ Malta, fl-inawgurazzjoni tal-proġett ta’ konservazzjoni u restawr tal-ikona tal-Madonna ta’ Damasku, Knisja Griega-Kattolika tal-‘Madonna ta’ Damasku’, Valletta, 30 ta’ Ġunju 2022, (Diskors bl-Ingliż)

Thank you, Papas Martin and George Mifsud, for inviting us this evening for this very interesting occasion.

I listened with attention to the details about the conservation and restoration of the icon. This centuries old icon which is, strictly speaking, an inanimate object, but it has a spirit of its own and it carries with it a certain amount of spirituality.

I have to congratulate the detailed account given by Dottoressa Maria Grazia Zenzani and I make it quite clear that I am not in a position to be as prolific about the issue as Reverend George Mifsud, I cannot match the details of the restoration of Dottoressa Maria Grazia Zenzani and I cannot even match the reflection made by His Grace.

During these presentations you have to forgive me for having harboured a profane thought, in the sense that I was thinking that this inanimate object, this icon which is so much part of our rich cultural heritage, puts on us a duty to preserve and to pass on to further generations.

However, I was thinking in terms of, listening to Fr Mifsud, about the history. Up to 1523, the icon was revered in Rhodes. In 1530 it was brought to Malta and since then it has always been revered in various churches and given its due respects.

But I was thinking in terms of the period 1523-1530 when it was taken to Rome, with the Knights, who were in the worst period of their history. Clement VII had just ascended the Papal throne and he had little time to think about the needs of the Knights, he was much more taken up with his fears of invasion by Francis I or Charles V. As it eventually transpired, Charles V did sack Rome, with the Pope having to go to Saint Angelo and eventually to Orvieto and even Viterbo, where I read somewhere that even this icon was in Viterbo at some time, which means that the Knights must have been pestering the Pope to find them a place where to go and a seat in exchange of Rhodes.

So, my thinking was, what was happening to this icon during that period? Where was it? Was it being revered? Was it being hidden? Was it being stored somewhere?

This is very important. As I said, the Pope had more things pressing on his mind. He was much more concerned with Lutheranism, the spread of Protestantism and the issue of Henry VIII asking for annulment of his marriage with Catherine of Aragon. These were much more pressing thoughts on the mind of the Pope.

However, after 1530, as we said, I am sure that the icon, if it can only speak, will tell us the reverence and the prayers that must have been asked of her during the Great Siege by the Grand Master. And eventually also the festivities and the thanks that it must have received after the battle of Lepanto.

So these are the thoughts that I was harbouring as I was sitting down over there listening to the spiritual thoughts of His Grace, but I am sure that you will forgive me for musing on this because I think that this is part and parcel of the history of the icon, which, as I said, must have been through the worst of times during those peregrinations when the Order had lost its seat and was looking for a new seat.

Thank you for giving us this occasion this evening, thank you for the restoration, and I am sure that as has happened during all these centuries, we will be in a position to care for this icon, to pass it on to future generations. Thank you very much.

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