The Holy Week procession in Valletta this year stoked controversy amid a raft of complaints about some entertainment and catering outlets located along the route, which, detracted the solemnity of such occasion.  These complaints varied from the physical obstruction caused by tables and chairs in public places and loud music which at times disrupted religious functions inside places of worship.

Such controversy would have been unthinkable until a few years ago. Back then on Good Friday all commercial activity bar some exceptions was banned by law, which meant that shops would remain closed. However, be it the relaxation of the respective trade laws and possibly lack of enforcement, have meant that no such restrictions exist anymore. Judging by the atmosphere in Valletta during the 2023 Holy Week it was like business as usual (if not more than usual!).  

While we are not advocating the complete halt of business activities or a throwback to the days which preceded the Vatican II Council, the scenes witnessed this year are of concern. It is quite ironic, that in this day and age when inclusion and multi-culturalism are preached in every corner, it has become next to impossible to hold a religious procession without feeling the odd one out.  Aggrieved enthusiasts and volunteers who have been waiting since 2019 for these processions to make a comeback in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic have started petition in which they are lobbying the authorities to take action.

This controversy goes beyond religion and traditions. Each year millions are spent to promote Malta’s rich cultural heritage, which, in the case of Valletta, is intrinsically linked to the Knights of St John and traditions which date to that period. What sense does it make for establishments to endanger traditions like the Holy Week, given that they depend mostly on the same tourists who flock to Malta to witness Holy Week events? Is not it like killing the goose laying the golden eggs?

Authorities must ensure that these traditions are preserved and that believers are free to take part without anybody mocking them. The solution should not necessarily be throwing money at the problem. What is needed is better enforcement on encroachment permits, opening hours, music and to promote certain conduct which shows respect.

The proposal being put forward in this petition to have regulations and guidelines should be seriously explored. The government should collaborate closely with local authorities, the community, businesses, and religious leaders to come up with a solution. The active involvement of the police and other enforcement authorities is crucial in ensuring the compliance of regulations and guidelines. Ultimately, this is not only an issue concerning the capital. Last year, a similar situation happened at the St George’s Basilica Square in Gozo whereby this public space was taken up entirely by tables and chairs, prompting the Church to demand the authorities’ intervention so as not to disrupt a procession. Greed knows no bounds. This is why, action must be taken before it is too late.