On the 1st of August, the first day of the traditional Kwindiċina in preparation for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Catholic Church commemorates the Neopolitan bishop and doctor of the Church Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori. A picture of the saint hangs on one of the side doors of the Basilica; though it may not attract attention, it is there as a reminder, that one of the most glorious and illustrious of the benefactors of St George’s was another Alphonsus.
I wonder if there are still any living Rabtin who remember the late Archpriest Alfons Maria Hili. Born on the 19th of January 1865, Hili died in poverty on the 31st of December 1943, the last day of the year, during the Second World War. He was a priest known for his holy life; it was to him that the seer from Gharb Karmni Grima spoke and confided when she heard the voice of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’ Pinu calling her attention; it was he who determined the date on which the revelation took place. Without Dun Alfons, we would not have been able to celebrate the event on the 22nd of June of every year. Dun Alfons was an influential member of the clergy in his own time. He must have enjoyed the respect of his diocesan bishops, especially the late Mgr Giovanni Maria Camilleri OSA, who chose him to be rector of the diocesan seminary for a couple of years before becoming archpriest within the Cathedral Chapter and parish priest of ancient Rabat and it parish dedicated to St George.
Although 76 years have passed since his death, the face of Dun Alfons will remain familiar to one and all due to the monument that Archpriest Emeritus Mgr Joseph Farrugia erected in his honour in St George’s Basilica; the bust was blessed by the late Bishop Cauchi and inaugurated by President Emeritus of the Republic Dr Ugo Mifsud Bonnici, whose late father Carmelo – known as Il-Gross – had been member of parliament together with Mgr Hili himself. Various photos of the late Dun Alfons can still be seen around. He was a great benefactor of St George’s; it was he who commissioned Gozitan master-mason Vitor Vella Il-Qanfuda from Żebbuġ (Gozo) to build the new side chapels known as in-navi together with the dome and lantern of the church. One should not forget that after the earthquake of the 11th of January 1693 known as It-Terremot ta’ San Iginu (The Church commemorates St Iginus, Pope, on the 11th of January) until the 1930’s, the dome of St George’s consisted only of the skutella and therefore looked very much like the present dome of the Cathedral Church itself. It seems that at the time of the earthquake, the parishioners of St George were afraid of building the dome once again due to the fear of potential earthquakes.
We, the parishioners of St George, together with the people of Victoria and the entire people of our island should be grateful for Dun Alfons. As a member of parliament for Gozo, he had also tried his best to see that Gozo would have a ferry-service that would benefit the people of his native island. Maltese historian Fabian Mangion has written at length about him, especially in his scholarly article that appeared in The Sunday Times a couple of years ago. The memory of Dun Alfons taz-Zezzier will never die; he died in poverty as he helped wholeheartedly his parishioners to help them lead a better life. It is up to us now to keep him in our prayers as we thank the Lord for giving St George’s one of its greatest benefactors who dedicated his life for the glory of God, the parishioners he looked after and the island he loved with an undivided heart. His special devotion to St George is legendary and is need of no description.