Today, almost three weeks after her brutal murder, Daphne Caruana Galizia will be laid to rest. In what must have been the most excruciating grieving process for her loved ones, they can finally start mourning as their wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend is returned to the ground with dignity, her memory never to be forgotten.
Still, the poignancy of a private funeral will not suffice to calm the shockwaves in the nation. Even if the institutions are perpetuating the myth of a mere “attack against freedom of expression”—especially on the day of her funeral—a sense of dread, of dis-ease, continues to shroud the country. Many might not even notice it, so absorbed are they in living the fabrication that nothing momentous has happened, believing the propaganda that there is no writing on the wall. But for some, that general feeling of angst simply won’t go away.
I’m not writing this to analyze our political situation or to offer any answers. In such moments of “disorientation” easy answers—or worse, rash decisions—are the last thing we need. Rather, I am addressing this to those who, like me, belong to the church in Malta, and for that reason, cannot simply lament (or ignore the situation) as ordinary citizens, but are burdened with the responsibility of Christian witness, especially in difficult times.
Archbishop Scicluna spelled it out exactly a week after Ms Caruana Galizia’s “cruel murder,” when he celebrated mass for the repose of her soul. He exhorted: “let us not be afraid… let us look after one another.” (“Tibżgħux… imma ibżgħu għal xulxin.”) “Looking after one another” takes seriously the dangers (perceived or otherwise) that lurk in our midst. But “ibżgħu għal xulxin” also carries a more tender connotation of “caring for one another,” acknowledging not just the vulnerability that comes with peril or intimidation, but that which comes with deep sorrow and grief. Likewise, the temptation to “fear” suggests the presence, not only of “demons” outside of us, but worse still, of those within us that we are too weary to confront.
What marks our current political moment is not just the inevitable reverberations of the horrific murder of a very public figure, whose role—still being disputed—was unique in our culture. More insidious is how these ambiguous effects are themselves being resisted, ignored or undermined to make the “trauma” itself seem illegitimate, or, for some, even “dangerous”. This perpetuates not only unresolved tensions, but deep mutual mistrust, and therefore, a systematic erosion of the fabric that binds us together as one Maltese people. Increasingly we are meant to feel as if we are no longer one people tribally-divided over political “parties”, but one horde that will tolerate no dissent, and will scapegoat those who dare to question its narrative.
In our Christian communities, that can never be exclusive or excluding of anybody, and therefore where these political dynamics will also be played out (subtly if not explicitly), “looking after one another” becomes our foremost priority. In our parishes and congregations, we cannot afford to tiptoe around sensitive or divisive issues, desperately trying to offend nobody, and in the process, sweeping all filth under the carpet. Turning a blind eye to the ills of our society, to the personal wounds in the church community itself, or simply refusing to speak about them in the light of the Gospel (ironically, for fear of “alienating the flock”), perpetuates the “code of silence” that keeps us stuck here in the first place.
Rather, as Maltese church, I believe we have a duty towards both the people of God and of our country. “Looking after” and “caring for” must be put in practice, in particular, through creating safe spaces for communal conversation and soul-searching, that dares to be a relentless search for those words that can speak “our truth” as people of God and as citizens. This truth must be nuanced and rich, born of the respectful acknowledgement and healing of division. For that reason, it could also become the seed for the more complex truth that we will have to work towards and appropriate as one Maltese people. But let us not delude ourselves: it is only from that judgment of truth owned by the one nation, that we will be able to break the impasse and discern the most fitting political action. Until then we will be, not just lost for words, but politically directionless.
Our small contribution as church, as “divided” people of God could be simply that: of a Christian witness of moral leadership that models the hope of one united Maltese nation; of a vulnerable people who can break the cycle of violent silence, by discovering its common truth from which authentic political action can be born. Dare we rise to the occasion?