I greet each and everyone of you as I begin my ministry here, at St Paul’s. Many of you I have already met during these last couple of weeks that I’ve been here. Others I had met earlier in one of my visits to this wonderful land. Still, I know that we will need time to really start getting to know each other. This is something I am really looking forward to, as, like any other family, the parish family is made up of relationships. And, not unlike any other Christian family, the bond that holds this family together has to be Jesus Christ, the head of this Body we call Church.
The arrival of a new Pastor is always a time of transition. And sometimes, transitions can be quite difficult. Both you and I have to get to know and get used to each other, have to let go of some things we were used to, and have to learn new things and move into new experiences. I pray we all move wherever the Spirit would want to lead us. One thing I have learnt throughout the years is that, no matter the circumstances, He never leaves us alone.
As I write this message, I feel very comforted by God’s Word during these days. In God’s plans, nothing is coincidence.
Firstly, my ministry as Pastor started on the 25th, the feast of the conversion of St Paul. The Apostle Paul was certainly one who had strong ideas and ideals, but when God entered into his life on that fateful day on the road to Damascus, he let go of what he thought was right to enter into God’s story. It wasn’t easy for him. But the results have been astonishing. This is something that deeply affects most of us, as it was Paul’s ministry that gave us, as Maltese people, the gift of faith. And again, it was not something that Paul had previously planned!
In today’s Gospel, then, we hear Jesus proclaim those beautiful words from the prophet Isaiah: “God’s Spirit is upon me …. He sent me …” How apt these words are in a moment like this! These are the words Jesus chose as he began his ministry in Luke’s gospel. I honestly would love to make these words my own today as I begin my ministry amongst you.
He sent me to St Paul’s. He chose me to be Pastor of this people. And how I love this word: Pastor. In some countries, other terms are used, such as Parish Priest, or Archpriest. I find Pastor, “Shepherd”, personifies all that my ministry should be. The emphasis is not on managing or commanding. Rather, it implies guiding, leading, encouraging, tending. Always journeying with. Sometimes the shepherd moves in front to lead, sometimes in the midst to encourage, sometimes at the back to help the tired ones. Sometimes still, he might feel a bit confused as he searches for a lost sheep. Always, as Pope Francis reminded us priests in one of his first meetings with us in Rome, “with the smell of sheep”.
Finally, I remember and salute with gratitude Fr Manuel and all the pastors that were here before me. They were all different in both character and style. Yet, they all loved this Parish and gave us what we are enjoying today.
With confidence, let us all walk together on whatever road God would like to lead us.
Wishing you God’s blessings,