Dear brothers and sisters,
For the last three years, unfortunately we were unable to celebrate this Mass at our national Shrine, on the eve of Gibraltar Day, to honour our Lady of Europe as our patron, always seeking her protection. Three years ago, it was due to road works near the Shrine that kept us from celebrating here, and the following two years it was due to the pandemic that have gripped us and the whole world. Today I am very glad that it is possible to celebrate this Eucharist in the presence of a congregation. This is a tradition that needs to be kept. I thank you for coming to honour our Lady once again on such a special day for Gibraltar, and to thank her for her protection and help in all the challenges that we have faced and which we will face in the future as a community.
In the Gospels, Mary appears as a woman of few words, but with an attentive gaze capable of guarding the life and mission of her Son. She uttered four sentences in the gospels, and two of them are related: ‘Be it done to me according to your word’ to the Angel Gabriel when he announced to her and ‘Do what he tells you’ in the Wedding at Cana. She accepted to do God’s will, and she is telling us also to accept in our lives God’s will.
Her maternal role in the history of salvation has been affirmed clearly by the present Pope who declared Mary Mother of the Church as a feast to be celebrated the day after Pentecost, certainly due to her presence in the upper room when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and the Church was born [referring to the reading from the Act of the Apostles just read]. From that day she was actively the mother of the Church.
The maternal vocation and mission of the Virgin towards those who believe in Christ actually began when Jesus said to her when he was crucified “Woman behold your son”.
The words [from the Gospel just read] addressed by the crucified Lord to his disciple, to John and through him to all disciples of Jesus: “Behold your mother”, are fulfilled anew in every generation. Mary has truly become the mother of all believers.
From the earliest times of the Church, the faithful turned to Mary in prayer for her help, protection and intercession. The oldest prayer ‘Sub tuum praesidium’, dates back to the third Century. It is a prayer that invokes Mary’s protection on her children and to help us in our trials and tribulations. Pope Francis urged us to recite this prayer daily, considering the dangers the world faces not only due to the Pandemic but also the many wars that are going on in the world and the danger of people dying of hunger, together with the natural disasters that occur from time to time, remembering that Pope Francis is a pope who is always reminding us about our duty to safeguard nature, to protect us from the disasters that climate change is bringing with it. It has been noted that the present pandemic will be nothing compared to the disasters that will happen in the future unless we stop abusing nature.
The statue of Our Lady of Europe, present here in front of us, has a history of its own since it was commissioned six hundred years ago. The sailors who crossed the straits in the past used to salute Our Lady, and they also would visit the shrine and leave their precious offerings here. The turret with its lamp burning on oil donated usually by visitors was also a shining light to warn ships of danger. The image was known not only as Our Lady of Europe, but also as Our Lady of a safe passage.
During the worst period of Covid-19, Gibraltarians have shown that there are values instilled in us which we inherited from our Christian culture. The value of solidarity, of care, of helping others, of saving lives, of sacrificing ourselves for the good of others, show that our culture is a Christian culture. We are capable of rising up to the needs of the occasion. I would like to take this occasion to thank all those who worked in some way or other, sometimes at a clear danger to their own life, to help those who were at risk and who were suffering from the virus. We are not out of the woods yet, and these unsung heroes still deserve our appreciation for what they are doing in the community.
Europe has been shaped in its values by its Christian beliefs, some of which are still very much part of our values even if some have been lost.
Gibraltar day is a celebration of national unity, whether we gather in squares or in a church or by celebrating in restaurants or on the beach or even in Spain. On this day, we pray that the unity we celebrate is not just an illusion or wishful thinking. This unity means that we, as citizens, pull together for the good of all. The pandemic has put us to the test and we have shown that in times of need and of danger we are capable of sacrifice and of serving others.
Gibraltar has always proclaimed its pride that we are capable of living together in a harmonious and tolerant society, where respect is shown towards all irrespective of their religion, social status, gender or ethnicity.
I wish I am wrong in what I am going to say, but with a heavy heart I notice that this value of tolerance seems to have been lost in a section of our community, when especially on the social media hate speech abounds, together with bullying and aggressive language aimed at those who may have different views from ours. Are we treating each other as brothers and sisters or are we using the category of enemy for each other when ideologies don’t meet? Everyone has a right to be treated with respect, however different our ideas or beliefs are. Our differences do not take away the fact that we are all the same, all human beings, and for those who believe, we are all created in the image of God.
The future for many may be uncertain, and we all know that life after this pandemic and with Brexit will not be the same as before. It is only experience and time which will tell us how we are to adapt to the new future. I hope and pray that the lessons learned during the months that we have experienced this virus will not be quickly forgotten, and the sense of dedication and care for others will continue to be felt well after the dangers brought by this virus are put behind us.
As we venerate Mary, the mother of God, the mother of the Church, and our mother, let us entrust the needs of Gibraltar to her maternal care.
Today, on the Eve of Gibraltar’s National Day, we come here to pray, in union with Mary, for our human family, and to find rest with the Mother of the Lord. We pray for her constant help, for ourselves and for those who are dear to us. We pray that Mary generates in our hearts the consolation, peace and joy that comes from believing that God is merciful and compassionate. So is Mary, God’s privileged daughter and mother, She is the mother of mercy, as we pray when we say the ‘Hail Holy Queen’. May she be always our help, our refuge and our hope.