ON THE ROCK WITH ST. PAUL
Contrasts in Christendom: Red Lights in Amsterdam, Neon In Malta

October 2006By Thomas Basil

Thomas Basil entered the Catholic Church in 1996. He resides in the Archdiocese of Baltimore with his wife and six children.

It is sunset in Bugibba. Small tourist hotels and shops crowd a Mediterranean boulevard teeming with holiday-minded Europeans. Most are surely unaware that their vacation spot ranks a full chapter in the New Testament, Acts 28. In A.D. 60 a shipwreck here changed this island forever. The Church of St. Paul's Bonfire now stands in the boulevard's median strip. Here a serpent tried to strike down the Apostle Paul after he was cast ashore on Malta.

Malta is a remnant speck of Christendom off the coast of a post-Christian western Europe. Malta is home to 365 Catholic churches, roughly one for every 1,000 residents. Of her 400,000 citizens, 98 percent profess Catholicism and, more significantly, 85 percent attend Sunday Mass. The national flag is the feudal eight-point Maltese cross. Malta's state university trains future doctors and engineers as well as future priests. Public schools teach Catholicism as a required subject. Political debate is not over a woman's "right" to abort, but over a couple's "right" to divorce. Malta quaintly outlaws both modern liberties.

Before arriving in Malta, my itinerary took me to Amsterdam, where liberties flourish. In her Red Light district, prostitutes in underwear pose in storefront windows in shops directly opposite an obsolete medieval cathedral. Paid by credit card, prostitutes ply their trade shielded from onlookers only by a curtain pulled across their street-level window. Their professional status is secured by a Dutch labor union for "sex workers." Other Amsterdam sights included its airport's "meditation center," which holds a Sunday "multi-religious" service in a "chapel" devoid of any cross, but with a large arrow on the floor showing the direction to pray toward Mecca; and the suburban Amsterdam parish near my hotel where an elderly nun tallied Mass attendance for me as "about 15 on Saturday night; on Sunday about 100."

Malta's equivalent to Amsterdam's Red Light district is an area known as Paceville. It too is jammed with passersby in search of a good time. But absent are store windows crammed with either prostitutes or obscene sex toys. Instead, its stores include souvenir statues of St. Padre Pio and ceramics of famous Maltese churches. Paceville's most provocative storefront has shelves filled with penis enlargement, breast enhancement, and other hedonistic potions. A neon sign blazes the shop's name: "Made in America."


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Back to October 2006 Issue

Read our posting policy Add a comment
Great read! Holland is fundamentally a conservative society, it's just Amsterdam where the craziness is evident.

I sense that Holland will politically turn to the right, as will most of Europe in the coming decades, as it deals with its demographic crisis. In othere words, it will continue to seek God substitutes and heaven on earth.
Posted by: caesium
October 20, 2006 05:57 AM EDT
C'mon, man! If Holland is a fundamentally conservative country then Islam is a fundamentally rational religion. If the Catholicism of Malta was emulated here in the US the anti-Catholics and irreligionists would do everything in their power to infiltrate it and destroy it. It would labeled intolerant,divisive, and separatist but would be a bit of heaven on earth. An example would be the anti-Catholic bias that have arisen around the orthodox Catholic community centered around Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida. Posted by: gwolak
October 22, 2006 11:15 AM EDT
If Holland is conservative...what does conservative mean? Holland is pretty much the antithesis of conservatism as I understand conservatism. It's anti-traditional, progressive, and faithless. Conservativism to me means traditional, status-quo, and religious. I don't think there is a nation in Europe besides Malta that can be called conservative. Maybe there are pockets of conservatism (Brittany in France), but not one conservative nation. Posted by: argaddini
October 22, 2006 10:57 PM EDT
Thanks for the article. I am trying to look into getting citizenship right now, in lieu of the Police states rising here. Just do not have many marketable skills and hard to move.

John Chance
catholicresistence.blogspot.com
Posted by: catholicresistence
October 27, 2006 01:10 PM EDT
As you probably already learned, you will have to get citizenship : in Malta, non-citizens are forbidden to work, because it would drive down wages to the point where, as in America, citizens cannot properly support their livelihood without highly skilled jobs, or both spouses working. It is nice to know there is still a country in the world that truly protects and serves its people. Does anyone know of another one? Posted by: Mike Ezzo
November 15, 2006 09:49 PM EST
Sorry to burst your American bubbles, but Malta is hardly going to save the world (I know because I live here in Malta). For all its good points (e.g., the proper influence of the Church on government, laws banning abortion, etc.), Malta is the equivalent of 1972 America. For example, the Church here is just realizing that its younger folk aren't going to Mass as much as their parents and grandparents. They believe the answer to this is to dumb down the liturgy in order to be more "relevant." Now where have you heard that before? Furthermore, the Catholic schools here in Malta leave a whole lot to be desired. The teachers at my daughters' school (one of the better ones, in fact) are not exactly fonts of piety or Catholic wisdom. Some aren't exactly bright lights either -- if you ask me. Another problem is that the Maltese obviously don't care much about Church teaching when it comes to contraception. Most families here have either one or two children, which makes for a whole nation of spoiled brats being reared. And finally, there is little sense of modesty in Malta. The young women and even middle age women, for example, look to Italy for their fashion queues. The result is a new generation of hoochies south of Sicily. Yes, it's true that the old ladies cross themselves as they get onto the busses and the sound of church bells ring in the air all hours of the day, but the piety ends there, I'm afraid. No puff pieces from tourists who visit for a day or a week are going to change that. I wish it were not so. Unless things change quite drastically -- and soon -- twenty years from now, Malta will be as Ireland is today. In fifty years, it will differ little from Italy or France. In 100, you might as well just visit Amersterdam. Posted by: nortemp
November 20, 2006 06:14 AM EST
...and I should also add that, contrary to Basil's article, the Maltese cross is not on Malta's national flag. It is the George cross that (controversially) appears on the Maltese flag. Malta, a former British naval base, received the George Cross from Great Britain after being bombed daily for three years by the Italians and then the Germans during World War II. In fact, the Knights of St. John were not Maltese, they were simply the rulers here in Malta for a few centuries -- and did a fine job of keeping Malta from becoming a Muslim country. The Maltese today, in fact, continue to do a fine job of that. Posted by: nortemp
November 20, 2006 06:21 AM EST
With all due respect, Mr. Nortemp, you haven't even bumped into
my bubble, let alone burst it. In fact the way you describe Malta makes it look
even better than the article did.

1. Less-than-pious priests? Surely you prefer that to homosexuals (many of whom are not celibate).

2. Girls hankering after fashion? That is universal and perennial.

3. Bad teachers? At least they are Catholics. In many American Catholic schools they aren't.

4. Two kids per family? Yes, but they are truly families, where
the children are raised by their biological parents.

5. Clergy wants to dumb down the liturgy? But they
haven't done it yet!

6. Lower Mass attendance for youngsters? Yes, but they
will almost certainly return to Mass-going when they grow up.

I don't know about 20 years from now. But right now, you are
as near paradise as it gets in the modern world. Just look at
what you DON'T have : abortion, gangs, divorce, euthanasia,
homosexual "marriage", stem cell research, bankrupt churches,
drug abuse, legal pornography, immigration problems, Christian
piety banished to the point where you can't even pray in school,
wear a cross necklace, or wish a customer "Merry Christmas".
Certainly you are glad to be free of all this. Please try to
appreciate what you have at least while you have it.
Posted by: Mike Ezzo
November 23, 2006 12:06 AM EST
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