In the early years of the 20th century several erroneous ideas were being aired in Malta. The Church kept a wary eye open on all new activities and organisations, fearing lest some novel teaching would permeate and damage the traditional Christian skin. So, when word came to the ears of the Vicar General, Mgr Salvatore Grech, that a group of youths was meeting regularly to talk about God, the scare was on. This fear was crowned by the fact that many people were flocking to hear this priest and his followers talking about God in a simple and clear way and had even the audacity to open the Bible, a book which priests and not the laity were then deemed qualified to read! What was going on? What was Saint George Preca doing? Was he clandestinely forming some heretical sect?
Actually, Saint George Preca was aware, as any other intelligent person must have been at that time, that the religious situation on the islands of Malta and Gozo was, to say the least, precarious. With no solid grounding on Sacred Scripture, the religious feelings of the Maltese were founded on sand rather than on rocks - which could easily, therefore, be washed away in times of storm and stress.
Festivities, fireworks, a rather dubious devotionism and a fair amount of superstition were all that could be said of the piety of many a Maltese Christian.
No really well-organised catechetical instruction was carried out to stem this tide of religious ignorance. Much was left to the individual efforts of priests. The Church itself, although providing most of the best private educational establishments on the islands, could hardly be said to have prompted organised and regular religious education for the common people.
Saint George Preca's Response
Saint George Preca opted for the way of teaching the people rather then to simply let the people go by their devotions. Thus he often emphasised and repeated: teach the people so that they could be convinced of their beliefs, no matter who and what challenged them. Using his charismatic force and personality, he wielded a silent army for Christ: men and women who, without radically distinguishing themselves from common people by dress or uniform, would nevertheless be so well instructed and formed in their spiritual life that they would quietly shine forth before others with their example in their everyday life, whether at home or at work. Moreover, at a time when the laity had not yet been officially recognised as important in the mission of spreading the Gospel, Saint George Preca entrusted his followers with the responsibility of teaching catechism. His little group of men and women metamorphosed into the Society of Christian Doctrine (known locally as M.U.S.E.U.M.), and today it consists of about 90 Centres and 850 members. About 20,000 boys and girls are taught in the Maltese islands, in Australia, Peru, The United Kingdom, Kenya and Albania. The SDC also plans to open new missions in Poland and Cuba.
Despite the now-acknowledged greatness and merit of Saint George Preca, the early phase of his apostolic work was no bed of roses; rather, the thorns that stung his side were many and sharp. Cried down in the newspapers despite the fact that people continued to flock to him for advice, the climax came when the Vicar General Mgr Salvatore Grech ordered him on behalf of the Archbishop to close down all the catechetical centres he had opened. These oppositions were no novelty in the Church. Most of the great founders met with the same treatment. Saint George Preca, like Don Bosco, was accused of being mad, and, like St Philip Neri, was criticised for his acts of piety. The same Archbishop who ordered Saint George Preca to close down and would never approve of his Society, was soon to give him and his society a free hand over all his diocese, trusting them and confiding in them unreservedly.