THE LEGACY OF ST GEORGE PRECA
George Preca’s profound spirituality witnessed to a close union with God, which filled him with a special charisma to understand and lead God’s people. Today we witness many who have captured much of this charisma.
As a preacher, George Preca was much sought after, and when the news ran through village or town that the priest was on his way there, village and town would arouse itself and flock to hear him speak. As he walked through the streets, children would gather around him and mothers would beg him to bless their babies and rosary beads.
What is his legacy that we acknowledge today? George Preca opted for a way that was unheard of in the early 1900s: teach the people so that they could be convinced of their beliefs and in turn teach others. This was at a time when the laity had not yet been officially recognised as specifically sharing in the mission of spreading the Gospel; as this was before Vatican Council II. The role of the laity was given special emphasis at the Council where together with the whole Church, can share in the work of the apostles.
George took the involvement of the laity even a step further, in forming the Society of Christian Doctrine, in the spirit of Vatican 11, again before the Council, inspiring many of the faithful to commit themselves to Christ in the monastic tradition.
To assist his followers, George Preca began writing spiritual tracts in Maltese. This was at a time when the language question was raging in Malta, and the Maltese language was forgotten in fight for supremacy between Italian and English. The earliest manuscripts date as far back as 1909, and his merits as a spiritual writer have been recognised.
In late 2002, Pope John Paul II devised five new mysteries for the prayer of the Rosary, which he called the Mysteries of Light, or Luminous Mysteries. These new mysteries referred to the public life of our Lord, Jesus Christ. The addition to the decades of the Rosary of the Mysteries of Light by Pope John Paul II – which had been left untouched for over 400 years can be traced back to St George Preca. The five mysteries are identical to those proposed by Fr Preca. John Paul II called these mysteries from Christ’s public life the Mysteries of Light, the same title given originally by Fr Preca when he first proposed them in 1957.
We learn much from St George Preca especially his humility which was proverbial. When the SDC celebrated its golden jubilee in 1957, one of the less extreme examples of this humility was when he proclaimed St Paul as the real founder of the Society by virtue of the words: “… hand on to faithful people so that they in turn will be able to teach others.” 2 Tim. 2:2.We may draw in the SDC’s experiences in Australia to further understand the legacy of St George Preca. During a Wednesday General Meeting held in Malta in 1961, one year before his death, he passionately appealed to Members to fulfill their missionary vocation and seek new horizons.
Pope Benedict, during his visit to Malta in 2010 addressed the gathered clergy saying: “St George Preca was a priest of remarkable humility, goodness, meekness and generosity, deeply devoted to prayer and with a passion for communicating the truths of the Gospel. Let him serve as a model and an inspiration, as you strive to fulfill the mission you have received to feed the Lord’s flock.” We all can draw from George Preca as our model by having commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as he most certainly did.
He prayed and meditated on the Gospel to the last, his death was a testament to his life. For even on his death-bed, he prayed that others may follow the Gospel.
This is an excerpt of a transcript of his appeal: “You know that the Society is present in Australia, and God bless, what prosperity; they are doing well and bearing fruit. Now a Brazilian Bishop has written to me and asked me to send Members to his Diocese. …Go and think of nothing except of spreading the Society’s spirit through your teaching of the Word of God. Now is the time, my brothers, to give all, because when you grow older you’ll become disenchanted. Just look at the dividends reaped by our Members in Australia. Our Society urgently needs to extend its roots because the world is really thirsting for Christ. Brothers, I entreat you to become missionaries, true apostles; you’ll be Jesus’ envoys, spreading his message, teaching his eternal word of life. My God, what a great need!”
As one can gather the Founder harboured special respect and admiration for those Members he had sent to Australia. Fr George favoured these Members because they were the only Members who, in some way, realised his dream; they came nearest to understand and grasp his missionary spirit.
This spirit is presented to each Member where in the General Chapter of 2004 in paragraphs 23-24 states: “The Member, therefore, nurtures in his heart a true freedom of spirit which translates itself into personal availability, mobility and adaptability in order to be able to carry out the apostolate wherever the Society asks him to go.”
This is the legacy of St George Preca and through this generosity and missionary spirit the Preca Community carries out its work for Jesus Christ in Albania, Australia, Cuba, England, Kenya, Malta, Peru, Poland and the USA. May we always have enthusiasm and our passion as exemplified by the Founder, St George Preca in the early days remains contagious.