For us who live at the beginning of the 21st century in an island-republic where the Church’s voice is one among many others, it certainly feels weird to have a priest involved in politics. However, things change and we change together with them. The involvement of members of the clergy in politics –especially Maltese politics – is no medieval notion. It was practised until the middle of the 20th century. Ignazio Panzavecchia, Enrico Dandria and Michael Gonzo are but a few names among many others, of priests who had a role in the Maltese political arena.
Gozo – with its double-insularity – did not have many of these. However it did have its fair share. One of the most renowned of these was Mgr Alfons Maria Hili, Archpriest of the Cathedral Church and Parish priest of St George’s from 1917 to 1945. Renowned for his wisdom, prudence and holiness together with a great pastoral zeal, Mgr Hili was in many ways the right hand man of Bishop Giovanni Maria Camilleri of Gozo. He served as Rector of Our Lady of Ta’ Pinu Shrine and it was he who calculated the date on which the Blessed Virgin spoke to Karmni Grima in June 1883. He also served as Rector of the Diocesan Seminary besides being a much sought after preacher.
Mgr Hili loved the people of his parish but felt obliged to protect his fellow Gozitans and promote his native island in any way possible. When in 1921 the Partito Democractico Nazionalista was the only one to contest on the district of Gozo and Comino, Hili was one of the four candidates, the other three being Enrico Mizzi, Lawyer Sir Luigi Camilleri and scholar Ġużè Micallef.
This is what historian Fabian Mangion had to say about him in the article he published in The Sunday Times:
Hili’s attention was not confined to the boundaries of Victoria, nor was it reserved to his parishioners. As a good father who genuinely cares for his children’s well-being, not only spiritual but also material, he was constantly concerned about the people of Gozo and always endeavoured to be of support to them. He was truly everyone’s priest… Hili was one of the four candidates of the Partito Democratico Nazionalista, which obtained 2,465 votes in the election. Given that the quota on that district was 559 votes, the party that later became today’s Nationalist Party had obtained four quotas and acquired all the seats, at a time when each electoral district was allocated four deputies.
Hundred years after his election to the 1921 Maltese Legislative Assembly, it is our duty as parishioners of St George’s, as Rabtin as well as citizens of the island-region of Gozo, to express our gratitude for this Gozitan patriarch who put the needs of his fellow Gozitans before his own, and worked hard to see his them no longer treated as second-class citizens of the patria. Thanks to former Archpriest Mgr Ġużeppi Farrugia, his monument adorns St George’s Basilica. However, every visitor who visits St George’s in Victoria can easily apply to him the words uttered by Sir Christopher Wren with reference to London’s St Paul’s Cathedral: “Si monumentum requiris circumspice – If you seek his monument, look around”.