The true colours of Catholic Malta

Pope Francis, with his humble gestures and unassuming nature, promises to be one of the most influential spiritual leaders of all time. His decision to travel to Lampedusa to meet illegal immigrants and pray with them has perhaps ignited a sense of shame among Catholics, particularly the self-professed type whose idea of being a true Catholic is rooted in artificial ceremonies and Mass attendance.

The periodic arrivals of African immigrants in Malta, the country with possibly the strongest Catholic devotion, provide an egregious example of the presence of religious bigotry that pervades the island. Beyond the prayers, the psalms, the fasting and the oaths, there’s a collective consciousness that harbours racist and xenophobic sentiments.

As summer kicks in, so do the weekly village feasts. As statues of saints are paraded through the streets of Malta’s towns and fervently hailed by devotees, the African refugees landing on the island’s shores in the summer months are unceasingly met with disgust and resentment. After going through the trauma of their treacherous journeys, these immigrants are sent to detention centres, where living conditions might not be that much different than the ones they left behind before crossing the Mediterranean.  They are socially excluded, exploited by their employers, verbally abused and assaulted, and their pursuit for freedom is irrevocably crushed.  And all of this takes place in a country which is supposed to be 98% Catholic.

Upon the arrival of 291 illegal immigrants in the first week of July, Malta’s Prime Minister, who claims to run a country from a liberal approach (although the way his Party deals with social issues is never in line with liberal values), is considering sending future immigrants back to Libya unless the EU offers its immediate help on irregular immigration. When a political leader displays a lack of sympathy and compassion towards the suffering of outsiders, and threatens to ship them back to their life of doom and torment, you can’t really expect to witness a change in the population’s hostile attitude towards immigrants.

While some leaders have inspired us to be charitable and non-judgmental, history has also showed us that some leaders have the power to instill xenophobic sentiments in their followers. But when the majority votes for this kind of immoral leader, then the country’s biggest problem is actually the citizens, not the refugees.


Earth Garden Festival 2013

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One of the many colourful stalls at the ethnic market
Daniela Frendo Photography

When it comes to attending local cultural events, I always try to predict the amount of pushchairs that will be bumping into me from all possible directions before deciding whether to go or not. It seems to be a local phenomenon how most parents find nothing wrong in taking their screaming kids and colossal pushchairs to every ‘child-unfriendly’ event that takes place on the island. They’re there at rock concerts, beer festivals, and in the scorching summer sun, clogging the passages through the crowd and creating more traffic.

Nothing, however, not even the fear of encountering an army of ‘Pushchair Transformers’ and an anarchy of spoilt kids, was going to stop me from attending this year’s Earth Garden Festival. On arriving at the venue, a wave of relief washed over me. Instead of the usual riff raff, I was in the company of comely, eclectic individuals, whose positivity radiated feel-good vibes throughout the park.

Strolling through the flamboyant ethnic market felt like a surreal experience. I made sure I stopped at all the stalls ensconced amongst the trees, admiring the colourful display of all things exotic. Some of the stalls were curtained by an array of beautifully crafted Indian throws, and showcased a collection of symbolic accessories and ornaments from various cultures. I ran my fingers over a Peruvian velvet painting which depicted traditional rural life, with peasants rearing their lamas against a background of straw-thatched huts. The softness of this handmade artifact, along with the sense of nostalgia that it conveyed, was enough to propel me into buying it.

When our feet had done about fifteen laps around the market, my better half and I decided to sit down and continue absorbing the blissful atmosphere. We nestled under a tree, sipping green tea and munching away on a giant chocolate cookie. The iridescent lanterns hanging on the branches above us danced with the cool summer breeze.  Meanwhile, a mix of psychedelic beats, live jazz music and the primitive hum of didgeridoos reverberated around us. But that pleasant background music was just the warm-up for the night’s main attraction.

At around 8, the amphitheatre located at the heart of Malta’s National Park in Ta’ Qali started filling up.  I am proud to say that I was part of that enthusiastic, vibrant crowd, who had congregated at the Greek theatre for the night’s star performance; Tribali. As the name connotes, the band’s music is a celebration of love, spirituality and peace, conveyed through a diversity of ethnic and oriental rhythms. Tribali’s pulsating performance, with their uplifting beats and breathtaking visuals, never fails to send the audience into a state of spiritual ecstasy. Hopefully it won’t be long until their next performance.

This year’s Earth Garden has truly been a magical start to Summer 2013.


Lavigne’s fall from grace

I rarely tune into local radio channels while I’m driving, seeing how by the time I get to work (a 20-minute drive on good days) I would have listened to the three most overplayed songs and eighty-six commercials.  But on some very rare occasions I’d rather have random songs thrown at me than putting on my unaltered, one-year-old playlist, and last week was one of them.  Nonetheless, the poor choice of morning songs combined with the repetitive round of adverts sent me into a trance as the heavy morning traffic came to a standstill. There was, however, one song that managed to cut through my deep thoughts and pull me back to reality.

I’m stuck in traffic on a Tuesday morning listening to the kind of song that could easily be a hit at kids’ birthday parties if it weren’t for the bad words being thrown here and there.  The verses of the song are comprised of short simple words. The singer places exaggerated emphasis on each word, making the song sound like an elocution lesson carried out the wrong way.  And then comes the chorus, with the only comprehensible word to come out of all the gibberish being ‘Radiohead’ – I can’t imagine them being exactly chuffed about earning a mention in such a tedious song. The singer’s shrilly voice at this stage of the song makes the chorus even more incomprehensible.

It is only half way through the song that I think I recognise a familiar tone underlying the strained high-pitched voice.  My hunch is soon confirmed by the DJ at the end of the song, but that doesn’t make things any better.  I have been listening to Avril Lavigne’s latest song, Here’s to Never Growing Up.  I have been listening to the very singer who had once been my idol.

I still remember how Avril Lavigne’s debut with Complicated in 2002 had triggered a revival of the punk trend among teenage girls. Avril represented girl power and teenage rebellion.  In addition, her lyrics were honest, profound and emotional, and as a result they struck a chord with love struck girls.

Over the past five years Avril has given herself and her songs a complete makeover, something which most artists feel the need to do at some point in their career.  But instead of evolving into an outstanding artist, she reduced herself to a mere singer with shallow lyrics and uninventive tunes.

“I’d rather be anything but ordinary, please,” Avril says in one of her early songs.  So this actually begs the question:  Where did it all go wrong?


Dropping the real bombshell

The Boston marathon bombings have once again thrown the West into a state of shock and terror.  Runners who had just been celebrating their physical fitness were fatally wounded. Enthusiastic bystanders suffered the same fate.

Amid the sympathies and tributes that flooded social networks, pictures of war-stricken Syria were also doing the rounds, accompanied by messages reminding everyone that what the American nation had witnessed on that tragic day has become an everyday scenario for Syrians.  The Boston bombings have served as a wake-up call, rekindling our awareness of countries devastated by incessant bombing raids. But how long will it be until we hit the snooze button again?

Despite the occasional news footage that captures a fraction of the overwhelming horror of war-torn countries, these images only manage to galvanize momentary sympathy for the victims. However, words alone can sometimes evoke a more indelible image of terrorised civilians. Khaled Hosseini’s 2007 novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, depicts the abominable treatment and suffering of women during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan. The book also introduces readers to the abysmal realities of the people of Afghanistan; demolished houses, streets littered with limbs, public executions, and people being shot dead outside their own house. These deplorable events are not at all different from what Syrians have been going through for the past two years. This is the real horror that we had been numb to until last week, when tragedy struck home.

A few hours after the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, the media started zooming into the victims’ profiles, focusing on testimonials given by their family and friends. Heads of States offered their condolences to the victims’ families, fellow participants paid their tributes to the victims, and flowers were laid at the scene of the blasts.

But who will mourn the loss of a Syrian child when his family and friends have already been killed, and the rest of the world is oblivious to his death?