If it’s 2008, it must be time for the next St. Mungo Singers Pilgrimage!
And where else in the Year of St.Paul but somewhere which would allow the choir to walk in some of his footsteps. The unanimous choice was Malta, which would combine warmth, scenery and history, and so a total of 56 choir members and friends set off on 6 October to St. Paul’s Bay.
(Photos by Gerald Barry. Click on images to enlarge.)
In fixing the choir programme for the pilgrimage, contact had been made with a number of churches regarding the possibility of holding services in them. One of these was the Cathedral in Mdina and as a result, the St. Mungo Singers were invited to participate in the Mass commemorating the Dedication of the Cathedral which would be presided over by the Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Mercieca. So our first port of call on arrival was Mgr. Daguerra, the Dean of the Chapter, to confirm the arrangements for the Mass. It was only when we were leaving his house in Mgarr that we discovered that Mgarr has no taxis and only a half-hourly bus service to the nearest town. How much we take for granted!
Tuesday started with a gloriously sunny morning and we took ship for a sail to the Grand Harbour at Valletta on a boat which turned out to be a Calmac ferry previously called the Keppel and now know as the Hornblower. To keep us feeling at home, as we commenced the return journey, the heavens opened in a deluge which rivalled anything we experience in Glasgow. This caused some consternation and a rapid reviewing of plans, as we had planned to land for a short service on the small St. Paul’s Island in St. Paul’s Bay where St.Paul and his companions had come ashore after their shipwreck. “Plan B” would be for us to stay on the boat and hold the service. However clearly the St. Mungo Singers had been praying hard as the rain went off just as we arrived back and the sun came out, allowing us to land on the island, hold our service and climb to the towering statue of St. Paul. There were smiles as Fr. Murtagh read the passage from Acts on the shipwreck for we had just experienced how quickly the weather could change!
On Wednesday, we arrived at Mdina, the “silent city”, where we were to lead the music for the anniversary Mass. The cathedral is a beautiful building with a wonderful acoustic and a splendid organ. The welcome we received was warm and Fr. Murtagh was invited to join the Canons to concelebrate.
The beginning of the celebration was very impressive as the Archbishop was greeted at the entrance to the Cathedral by the assembled clergy and, led by the macebearer resplendent in his red robes, they all processed to the sacristy. The Archbishop welcomed us in English at the start of the Mass. Although the service was in Maltese, this presented no difficulty due to the close co-operation throughout of the Master of Ceremonies with our Director of Music. At the end a presentation of a quaich was made to Mgr. Daguerra as a memento of our visit, and we returned to our coach through the atmospheric old city, now lit by strategically placed lamps.
The following day prior to returning to Mdina for a walking tour of the city, we had Mass in the church of Mosta which has the 3rd largest unsupported dome in Europe. This presented an unexpected challenge as the circular shape of the architecture resulted in an extended echo! In Mdina we had the opportunity to see more of its splendid architecture and hear its history but our time proved too short for all that we wanted to see.
When we returned to our hotel, we met up with Canon Michael Agius who had invited us to take part in his English language Mass at his parish in Naxaar, in the church of the Divine Mercy which was still under construction. Canon Agius took Fr. Gerry and some of the group to see his new church and his pride and enthusiasm were infectious.
At this stage the church had a temporary altar and no seating. The main windows were also without glass as they were awaiting the stained glass being made. He informed us, quite casually, that the Mass would only be the second one to take place in the church and he would be hiring in chairs and an organ for the occasion! The amplification would also be installed on the Saturday. As this was now Thursday evening, I think we could be forgiven for being tempted to give the Glasgow response “Ay, right!” but in the event, when we arrived on Sunday, it was to find the church beautifully set up with 400 chairs, a superb organ (with controls which would not have looked out of place on the flight deck of the latest jet) and glorious sunshine! Canon Agius also organised a bus for us on the spot, on learning that we had planned to use public transport.
We then had the privilege of meeting the artist, Luciano Michaleff, one of Malta’s best known contemporary artists, who is responsible for the interior design of the Naxaar church. He showed us the design plans for the church and also the first section of the icon of the Divine Mercy which will hang over the altar and be the focal point of the church – it was stunning!
Our next Mass was a contrast to that in Mosta, being in the smallest church we had seen so far, that of St. Paul Shipwreck in St. Paul’s Bay. It could just accommodate the choir plus a few visitors. Before the Mass, we tuned up on the steps of the church to the bemusement, I suspect, of the neighbours who had probably counted on a peaceful morning’s rest. The Parish Priest made us most welcome and showed us round the building, giving us the opportunity to see the photographs of the church before and after the destruction caused by bombing in World War II.
Saturday saw us visiting Gozo and involved an early start to allow us time to see as much as possible of the island, including the Stone Age temples at Ggantija. We visited the Marian shrine of Ta’ Pinu where Our Lady is reputed to have called the people to pray. We too obeyed her call and said our 3 Hail Marys as part of our Mass. We were less fortunate with the music as we were unable to use the main organ and the smaller instrument had a two pin plug and no discernible adaptor! However, the choir and the cantors, Johanna O’Connor and Helen Healy, rose to the occasion and sang a cappella. At the end of the service, we discovered that the congregation had included fellow Scots visitors, from Cumbernauld and East Kilbride, and a non-Catholic couple from England who had just looked in to see the church and had stayed for the Mass – the Lord works in mysterious ways!
After that, it was time to do the more touristy things – buying lace , wine and other craft goods – before we had a quick tour round the Citadel at Victoria. Our guide, Joan, was making sure we got our money’s worth.
Sunday was our final day in Malta, as we were leaving in the early hours on Monday, and we travelled to Canon Agius’ parish in Naxaar. The church was packed with parishioners and it was wonderful to see the large number of families attending. Their welcome was warm and their participation wholehearted and, all in all, it was a fitting end to a thoroughly enjoyable pilgrimage. The inevitable question now is – how do we top that one. Ah well, we have 18 months to think about it!