Humble, vibrant, easy-going, down-to-earth and always carrying a smile! This is how I would describe Mgr Giovanni Cefai mssp of Żebbuġ, Gozo who has been living and working in Perù at least for the last eighteen years. I struggled to find more appropriate adjectives because Mgr Cefai – who still looks quite young – must have an optimistic personality. Having survived living in poor conditions for almost two decades, he must be more than optimistic! He is certainly a man of prayer, a man who believes in the Christian virtue of hope. Who knows if this was the main quality that Pope Francis saw in him when choosing him to be the first bishop of the Apostolic Prelature of Huancané? After all it was Pope Francis himself who talked at length about this virtue in his Wednesday messages between October 2017 and October 2018!

But what is the meaning of hope without joy? They go together even if, as national poet Dun Karm warns us in his Eucharistic hymn, joy carries sorrow within its arms: Int għallimtna tan-niket il-hena (from Dun Karm’s Tina l-Ħlewwa tal-Ilsna tas-Sema). Like Saint Mother Theresa of Calcutta, Mgr Cefai knows the meaning of poverty. This is what our daily English newspaper had to say about the areas in which our young bishop will be working: “The level of poverty and hardship in these rural areas is higher than any other in the Andean regions, also because of the harsh atmospheric conditions” (The Times of Malta, June 25th, 2019 []). The same newspaper described him as being “on top of the world”. But this is not due to some false humility but rather due to the fact that Mgr Cefai is very much aware that he will be facing hard atmospheric conditions in the new area that is being assigned to him!

Fr Giovanni Cefai mssp was born at Żebbuġ, Gozo, on the 5th of August 1967. Among his various studies, one has to mention the fact that he even did a mechanical engineering course at the Gozo Technical Institute. Does this echo with the fact that even Pope Francis, before entering the Jesuit Congregation, attended the technical secondary school Escuela Técnica Industrial Hipólito Yrigoyen, and graduated with a chemical technician’s diploma? The more we read about Mgr Cefai, the more we notice the similarities between the two men of God. A strong common aspect is the love and dedication that both have for the poor!

Mgr Giovann will be coming to Gozo and to his native Żebbuġ and will say Mass at St Mary’s Parish Church (Żebbuġ) on Sunday 11 August. He will also say Mass in our Cathedral Church and will also find time to visit St George’s Basilica to meet with the clergy and the people, where he will celebrate Mass on Wednesday 14 August, the eve of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, at 6.00pm. Our Archpriest, Fr Joseph Curmi, worked closely with Mgr Cefai during his intermediary years spent in Perù in 2006-2007.

Bishop Cefai is in many ways “the smiling bishop coming from the island of joy”, Gozo being the island in which he was born and bred, and the ‘smile’ being one his main strengths! It does make such a difference to see a bishop smiling and mixing with people and finding himself at home with the common folk!

And now it’s our turn to wish him a Happy Birthday! He will turn 52 today! Dear Bishop Giovann, we all wish you a happy birthday and a safe journey home! You are most welcome! God bless you!