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Written by Sherry   
Monday, 28 May 2007 20:15
I've posted about the first new Maltese saint, Dun Gorg, before. He was the founder of the MUSEUM movement and a pioneer in the formation of the laity. But it has been a while and an article in the Malta Times about him made me chuckle - because the story sounds so familiar.

A century ago, in 1907, parish priest Dun Gorg set out to form the laity of Malta, a country that was nearly 100% Catholic and overwhelming uneducated. (Sherry's note: in 1907, the vast majority of lay Catholics in the world were not hanging around theological salons with the likes of Jacques Maritain. The majority were in a situation much closer to that of the Maltese than to the educated elite of the US.)

What got Dun Gorg going? Experiences like this:

On one occasion, as he was teaching catechism in church, Dun Gorg overheard the sacristan tell a group of children that God had created Himself. It was one of those incidents, it seems, that made Dun Gorg decide to gather a group of young men and prepare them to teach catechism, to found an institution for such a purpose. Dun Gorg's intention was that the society would be made up of lay people who would commit themselves to live by God's word in everyday life, and give their lives to teaching.

Dun Gorg laid emphasis on the need for people to learn the Bible, even being able to recite parts off by heart, and on the need to know the moral teachings of Christ and the Church.

And the reaction? I suppose it was entirely predictable:

Certain priests thought that moral theology should not be taught to the "ill-mannered and socially inept". A fellow priest who said he had been "teaching moral theology to boors"

Some priests opposed it because they feared that the movement was a sect that would break off from the Church.

In one town, word spread that the society's members were sick people. Mothers stopped sending their children to catechism as a result, fearing they would get some kind of disease.

Dun Gorg started being compared to Manwel Dimech, an important progressive figure at the time who led an "anti-clerical" movement called Society of the Enlightened. One of the most controversial Maltese political figures, Mr Dimech was eventually exiled and died in Alexandria.

It was feared that MUSEUM was promulgating some kind of dubious spiritual illumination.

Various members of the society testified that he took into his home "known sinners and people not pertaining to the Catholic faith".

Suspicions, according to Crispin Mangion, a member of the society whose confessor was often Dun Gorg, also derived from the fact that the priest had established contacts with a mission of a British Protestant Church. Dun Gorg's ecumenical spirit led to suspicions that his covert intention was to protestantise the Church.

Short term result?

When Archbishop Mauro Caruana asked Dun Gorg to close the houses, the MUSEUM founder obeyed immediately. But soon after the first two were closed down, a counter order arrived as the Archbishop no longer doubted Dun Gorg's intentions.

Long term result?

The MUSEUM movement was approved by the Church in 1932, 25 years after its founding.

And next Sunday, Blessed Dun Gorg Preca will be canonized at St Peter's Basilica.

I happen to be one of those Catholics who really believes what Catholics are supposed to believe: that the Second Vatican Council was led by the Holy Spirit and ultimately, a really good thing for the Church.

And stories like that of that soon-to-be-Saint Dun Gorg Preca is one of the reasons why.

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