Malta and its Catholic legacy
Malta’s religious legacy has spurred village festas that add a unique touch to Malta’s culture and heritage.
It happened 2,000 years ago that St Paul was shipwrecked on the Islands of Malta - more specifically, on a smaller island now known as St Paul’s Island between Mistra and Mgiebah bays. It is this event that is credited with bringing Roman Catholicism to Malta – a religion that would remain firmly established for millennia to come.
When ruled by the Knights of St John, a Christian order, the Islands were seen as a defensive outpost against the advancement of Islam. This led to the bloody siege of 1565, an event that would galvanise Maltese faith in the cross well up till the Islands gained independence in 1964.
The 1964 constitution entrenched the Roman Catholic faith as the religion of Malta, granting the authorities of the church the right and the duty to provide religious teachings in schools while at the same time guaranteeing every citizen the right to freedom of worship regardless of religion.
In modern Malta, Catholicism is still ubiquitous. Village festas, as pagan as they may appear, still revolve around the worship of a patron saint. Schools, whether public or private, still have mandatory religious teachings, and in general, parents still take the celebrations of their children’s sacraments very seriously.
The Church is also an active participant in social and political debates. Most recently, Malta introduced divorce legislation which the church was vociferously opposed to. The church’s views on the dignity of life also shape Malta’s approach to other legislation, including in vitro fertilisation and abortion – the latter being illegal in Malta.
Modern Catholic Malta has changed somewhat since the years when the Church had a strong hold on everyday life. While the Maltese are still considered a highly catholic nation with around half the population attending weekly mass regularly, the Islands are seeing a decline in support for the Church, and slow shift away from Church-led values.