Today, Friday 21 August 2020, will go down in history as the day on which Mgr Anton Teuma was consecrated the ninth Bishop of Gozo. The ordination had originally been scheduled for mid-September, but due to the present circumstances connected with the Covid-19 pandemic, the date was brought forward.
The Consecration will take place in the Xewkija parish church. The Xewkija Rotunda was chosen because it is the largest church on the island, and it is presumably the best place of worship to address the current extraordinary circumstances. Most probably this is going to be the first time that a bishop will be ordained in the Xewkija Rotunda dedicated to St John the Baptist, the Precursor of Our Lord.
It was Pope Francis who appointed Mgr Anton Teuma as Bishop of Gozo on June 17, 2020. Mgr Teuma, of Xagħra, who is 56 years old, is a priest with a colourful pastoral experience. Among other posts he held, he was spiritual director at the Seminario Romano, Rector of the Gozo Seminary, and Episcopal Delegate for the Family and Head of the John Paul II Family Institute.
Gozo has been a diocese since September 1864. Various Gozitan priests were consecrated as bishops throughout the years to serve either in the Maltese islands or beyond. Limiting ourselves to bishops who hailed from St George’s, we would like to take a look at those who served the Church in the episcopal order.
Augustinian monk Gaetano Pace Forno succeeded Publio Maria Sant on the 4 December 1857 as Archbishop of Malta; he died on 22 July 1888. Pietro Pace, who hailed from the area known as Wara San Franġisk, was appointed Archbishop of Malta on 10 February 1889, after having served as Bishop of Gozo, being also one of the main promoters of the erection of the Diocese in 1864. He died on 29 July 1888. Joseph Pace was appointed Bishop on 1 November 1944 and died in office on 31 March 1972. His monument is to be found at St George’s Basilica. Mgr Joseph Mercieca, who was born in a house in Providence Street next to St George’s Basilica, was appointed Archbishop of Malta on 29 November 1976; he had been Rector of the Diocesan Seminary before proceeding to Rome. He was succeeded as Archbishop of Malta by Mgr Paul Cremona of the Order of Preachers. The last Bishop to hail from St George’s is Mgr Alfred Xuereb. After spending his entire priestly life working for the Holy See, on 26 February 2018, H.H. Pope Francis appointed him Titular Archbishop of Amantea and Apostolic Nuncio for both Korea and Mongolia. Xuereb was consecrated Bishop on 19 March 2018 in St Peter’s Basilica by Pope Francis himself.
The three main tasks of a Bishop are to “teach, sanctify and govern”. This means that he must oversee preaching of the Gospel and Catholic education in all its forms; oversee and provide for the administration of the sacraments; as well as legislate, administer and act as judge for canon-law matters within his diocese.
We all remember the beautiful and timely homily Bishop Teuma preached on St George’s feastday in July; it provided us with food for thought since it spoke directly to our hearts. Bishop Teuma, who is already familiar with St George’s Parish especially through his direction of the meetings for new couples, is welcomed with open arms. We all look forward to see him and have him among us. Let us not forget that it is our duty to pray for our new bishop – who happens also to be the third Dean of St George’s Collegiate Chapter, founded by the late Bishop Cauchi in 1975 – as he takes upon his shoulders these three tasks, as well as to listen to him “in season and off season”, while we see in him the person of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, our one and only Saviour.