Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Promotion Carmelo Abela described an exhibition of an original Maltese nativity scene (presepju) in the Papal Basilica of St Paul-Outside-the-Walls in Rome as an excellent example of cultural diplomacy; an initiative that brings peoples closer through a better appreciation of both their cultural similarities and differences. He described the crib, first introduced by St Francis of Assisi in 1223, as a universal symbol of the real message of Christmas in Malta, the Vatican City State, Italy, and many other countries around the world.
The exhibition is being jointly financed by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade Promotion – through its Cultural Diplomacy Fund – and the Ministry for Tourism, and will remain open until the 7th of January 2020. An original work by volunteer artists from the St Andrew’s Band Club of Luqa, Adrian Gatt and Ray Zammit, the 5m x 4m x 3m crib titled ‘Malta fil-Presepju’ was officially inaugurated in the Basilica on Saturday by Malta’s Ambassador to the Holy See Frank Zammit, and the President of the Band Club Charles Attard. Present for the ceremony were, among others, Cardinal James Michael Harvey and Fr Roberto Dotta, Archpriest and Abbot of the Papal Basilica respectively, as well as the artists, members of the band, and their families and friends.
The crib was built in 2017 and this is the third time that it is being exhibited for the public. Originally, in 2017, it was on display at the Club’s premises, while in 2018 it was exhibited at the foyer of the Maltese Parliament. The setting of the scene is Malta’s capital, Valletta, with miniature replicas of various prominent buildings within the city including the Auberge de Castille, the church of Our Lady of Victory, the remains of the Royal Opera House, as well as a few traditional Maltese houses, with one of them, partly demolished in the World War II bombardments, providing the birthplace of baby Jesus. The whole setting is surrounded by Valletta’s bastions and the sea. The crib also reproduces the painting by Maltese artist Giuseppe Cali, as found in the Nativity altar at the Luqa Parish Church. The figures are wearing traditional Maltese costumes and include St Ġorġ Preca surrounded by children, a lamp lighter, a milk seller with his goat, shepherds with their herds, women wearing the traditional Maltese headdress (għonnella), a fruit and vegetable vendor, a horse-driven cart, and musicians playing traditional Maltese instruments. The figure of Jean de Valette, Grandmaster of the Order of St John, who gave Valletta its name, welcomes all those who visit this crib. Also represented is Pope Pius V, Head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 1566 to his death in 1572. Pope Pius V, who contributed towards the building of Valletta, is represented together with Italian architect and military engineer Francesco Laparelli da Cortona, an assistant of Michelangelo, who was sent by the Pope to supervise the construction of Valletta.
Minister Carmelo Abela, who was in Rome to participate in the Med-Mediterranean Dialogues organised by the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs and External Cooperation and the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), spoke about Malta’s excellent bilateral relations with the Holy See, as witnessed by that same morning’s meeting between Pope Francis and the Maltese Prime Minister. He said Malta was determined to see these bilateral ties enhanced even further, including through other cultural diplomacy initiatives. He thanked the Basilica’s administration for believing in such initiatives and for having supported the crib exhibition and commended the Maltese artists for their outstanding creation, which will help foster further mutual understanding and friendship between people.