On this Good Friday, I recall a unique and quite accidental experience during Holy Week 2006. We had traveled to Italy and were planning to experience Easter Mass at The Vatican. Because of my friends had a colleague from the U.S. who was traveling back to his home country of Malta for Easter, we asked ourselves as we planned the trip, “Why not? Let’s go to Malta for a couple of days!”. So we took off for Malta after spending a few days enjoying Tuscany.
We spent 3 days in Malta including Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Little did we know how vibrant the country’s Christian traditions for Holy Week were. And we were lucky to get to experience them, among the other things we got to do in this Mediterranean island.
Holy Thursday – the Visits
On Holy Thursday (or Maundy Thursday), the faithful proceed to visit the Altars of Repose at seven different churches. The altars are very decorated and we were handed leaflets with prayers for the visit. We followed my friend’s colleague as led us to different churches across a couple of towns not far from Valletta. He knew a lot of people in those towns so in between church visits, it was like a big social event, seeing family and friends. I don’t know that the religious traditions began with that aspect in mind but it certainly seems to help keep the tradition alive as it gives people an opportunity to connect.
If the eve of Good Friday had, if I may, an enjoyable tone to it, Good Friday became a much more somber occasion. All over the islands, processions of the Cross are conducted with locals portraying the various Biblical people surrounding the life of Jesus Christ and Jesus himself.
In addition to these, others participate to atone for their sins. They are dressed completely in white, head to toe, and carry crosses of different sizes, depending on the level of atonement they are pursuing (I presume, how big and many their sins?). It was my understanding these people were really using the Good Friday remembrance as an act of their penance. Impressive.
And then there are the spectators. We went to the old town of Żebbuġ (Zubbug; means “olives” in Maltese), where our host was from. He had arranged for seats to be reserved for us on a sidewalk in front of a building that I suppose his family owned or had a business at. Ourselves and many other spectators (most local but quite a few tourists too) sat and watched this procession.
These experiences certainly helped me connect more with the Maltese and also, during this vacation, kept me grounded and connected to my own faith. Both were quite unexpected – which is the biggest joy of travel: discovering something you had not planned or even were aware of. Eċċellenti, Malta!