George Preca was born in Malta in 1880, the main island from an archipelago of a few islands in the Mediterranean Sea, which lie 80 km south of Sicily. The country covers just over 316 km2 making it one of the world’s smallest and most densely populated countries.
From 1813 till 1964 the Maltese prospered under British rule who invested in the country’s infrastructure. The Crimean War and the opening of the Suez Canal further enhanced the economy boosting the population, from 140,000 in 1870 to double that amount by 1914. The island became increasingly urbanised, with the majority of the population inhabiting the capital Valletta and the Three Cities. Malta’s fortunes waned during times of peace in the early 20th century, leading to massive waves of emigration. During WWII the islands were heavily bombed but were never taken over earning Malta a George Cross for bravery and the nickname of “fortress island”. After the war the economy slumped again and thousands of Maltese migrated to Australia.
Ignorance, both intellectual and spiritual, was widespread, with 75% of the population illiterate. The position of the Christian laity was an uncompromising adherence to all that the authorities decreed, without the intelligent discussions and dialogue characteristic of modern times. Toeing the line was the order of the day in those late years of the 19th century, soon to be reborn into a new era. Few dared to stray away from the tradition village life and customs – most preferred the easier way of doing as told.
Among those who rose to lead and influence the lives, customs and principles of the Maltese people was a young and foresighted priest. “Dun Ġorġ”, as he was amiably called, was in the hearts of all and his name resounded to this day. His influence on the common man’s spiritual life was radical and permanent.