Fr Preca nurtured in himself and in the Members of the Society of Christian Doctrine a special love and reverence for the Pope.
In order to understand this, one has to understand the religious situation of the Maltese Islands in the time of Fr Preca. The people were extremely devout. All the village activity was centred round the Parish Church; people frequented the sacraments and practised pious devotions, such as the Rosary, the Holy Stations of the Cross, and attended Mass. But while people were practising these devotions, they lacked religious instruction, and Fr Preca foresaw that if modern secularistic views were propagated in Malta, there would be a spiritual disaster.
It must be said, that in the twilight of the 20th century, several people and associations were teaching false doctrines and misinterpreting the Bible. It was against this background that Fr George Preca was beginning his charismatic society, with innovative ideas like reading the Bible, learning and teaching Theology to give solid foundations to the spreading of the Good News, and so on.
Being truly inspired by God, the Founder wanted to demonstrate clearly that his Society was a truly Catholic one. And to be so in practice, it had to be obedient to the Church Authorities with regards to the content of its teaching and its rules. So he called the Members "Papidi" and 'Papidisse", Greek words, denoting that they are the spiritual children of the Pope. These words result from the conjunction of the Greek words of Papa (Pope) and idis (sons).
In the Church Inquiry of 1916, concerning the Society, Fr Preca affirmed that he gave this title so as to publicly proclaim that the Society was of Catholic foundation (a Protestant sect) and to inculcate a true devotion to the Pope, the Vicar of Christ.
While asserting these views, we must be careful not to give the impression that Fr Preca devised these names as a diplomatic tact to gain the Church's approval without trouble. The Founder, as a holy person, loved the Church dearly.
Moreover, Fr Preca was trained in his "sentire cum Ecclesia" by his spiritual directors. They instilled in him the idea that if he were to be troubled by any temptation about his faith, he would not argue internally with it but obey with unconditional obedience the authority of the Pope. In fact on one occasion he declared that in obeying this golden rule he had not a single temptation against faith. In attendance 24 in the Gymnasium for the Spiritual Life, he writes: "Hence, the person who has the true light, combats temptation to disbelieve any of the articles of faith by arguing the following way, without even hesitating for a moment to think on the subject: 'The Catholic Church sets forth the truth for our belief. The Church is infallible. Therefore, her teaching is infallible. This I believe and hold on to without having to listen to any argument or proof'".
His love for the Pope demonstrates clearly his love for the hierarchical Church. In studying Church history, we recognise how many times religious movements and persons wanted to reform the Church but became heretical or schismatic. On his part, Fr Preca had a deep respect for the Church. He never criticised its defects, but tried to reform it from within, by example, by instruction and by instilling a special love for the hierarchy. This was not always easy for him. When he had problems with Church authorities, he felt naturally unhappy, but so as not to instil any aversion to the hierarchy, he never spoke about these dealings even with the major superiors of the Society.
Fortunately, this spirit of the Founder is still prevalent in the Society today. On Sundays, during the Union celebration, an image of the present Pope is displayed by the Superior, while the Members chant this hymn composed by Fr Preca himself:
Salve Papa Noster We greet you Holy Father
Salve Petra Fidei We greet you Rock of Faith
Salve Coeli Janitor We greet you Heaven's Doorkeeper
Et Dominus sit tecum And may the Lord be with you
The Founder wrote also "The Profession of the SDC Members", which is recited on the 7th of every month. In the second paragraph of this profession the Member promise "to be truly obedient to the Pope, and to work for the prosperity of the Church entrusted to him, for I believe whatever she proposes, as You promised us".
For every Sunday morning, Fr Preca devised a prayer for almost every type of persons, and No. 77 is dedicated to the Pope saying: "Lord God the Father, true cultivator of the Christian vineyard, keep in your Right Hand, the visible head of the Church, and soothe his heart by uniting with him in Faith and obedience even more souls, for whose salvation Christ your Son shed his blood".
Perhaps one may affirm that Fr Preca's love was part of his education and may be considered sentimental too. But besides submitting humbly to the 1916 inquiry held by the Church authorities, a fact which happened in 1932 shows that Fr Preca nurtured special love for His Holiness, even when it was painful to him to accept his orders. Archbishop Caruana requested Fr Preca for the Society of Christian Doctrine to help the Archdiocese in having the Movement of Catholic Action founded in Malta. One has to bear in mind that this movement had the approval and backing of several Popes. Blessed George Preca obeyed and an agreement was reached so that a branch of the Catholic Action was to be founded in the SDC Centres. Later the Catholic Action developed independently from the Centres of the Society.
Fr Preca lived during the pontificate of celebrated and saintly popes. Pius X is a declared saint, John XIII has been beatified recently, while the process of beatification of Pius XII is on the way. Had the Founder lived during the pontificate of sinful popes, he, like St Thomas More, would still have pledged the same allegiance to them, for his convictions were not to the pope as a private person, but as the Vicar of Christ.
The Founder never travelled abroad. But he wished dearly to see the Pope, whom he loved so much. This dream realised itself in an inverse way. On 9th May 2001 Pope John Paul II, after declaring Fr George Preca "Blessed", delivered a message to the SDC Members. He had just visited the Blata l-Bajda Chapel where the remains of Blessed Preca are honourably kept. It happened to be a Wednesday, the same day which Fr Preca mostly addressed his Members.
Fr Preca testifies by his life the truth that Christ, the Gospel, and the Church are united in an intense manner. Devoted attachment to the Pope must therefore remain a hallmark of the Fr Preca's Society.
Angelo Xuereb sdc
Qala - Gozo
Preca Calling - Issue 54 (November 2002)