Charlie Buttigieg, who with his wife Antoinette runs the Malta Bake Shop in Toronto’s west end are proud that one of their loyal customers will be new auxiliary bishop of Toronto. Photo from Register files by Michael Swan

Malta shares its faith with Toronto, world

  • January 21, 2021

Fr. Mario Micallef recalls the general feeling of pride and excitement experienced within Toronto’s Maltese community on the morning of Nov. 28.

It was the day that news spread like wildfire that Maltese-born Fr. Ivan Camilleri, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Toronto, had been appointed by Pope Francis as the newest auxiliary bishop of Toronto. Coupled with the elevation of another Maltese cleric, Bishop Mario Grech, to cardinal by the Pope the same day, it was a milestone day for the southern European island nation and its descendants who now call Toronto home.

“While modernism and all that comes with it has reached Malta like all other developed countries, the Maltese are in general still very proud and fond of their Catholic faith,” said Micallef, the pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Toronto’s west end, who too hails from the nation that today is still more than 80-per-cent Catholic. “One of the principal feasts they celebrate is the commemoration of the day when St. Paul was shipwrecked on the island, as narrated in great detail by St. Luke in his Acts of the Apostles.

“The faith Paul left on the island is deemed and cherished as the biggest gift the people have ever received. No wonder that the news of the new bishop in Toronto hit the news on all local newspapers and Maltese news portals on the net.”

In the community of Little Malta located in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood along Dundas Street West, Charlie and Antoinette Buttigieg are still reeling with excitement at the announcement of Camilleri’s call. The owners of the mom-and-pop Malta Bake Shop reflected on their memories of the soon-to-be 52-year-old priest who on Jan. 25 will be elevated to auxiliary bishop of Toronto in a small ceremony at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica. They recall a man who would pop into the shop for a pastry and a chat from time to time. Over the years the couple has seen him grow, moving from a career in finance at Bell Canada to attending seminary in 2001 and being called to the priesthood in 2007.

“We were very proud and very happy to see him doing this because we’ve known him since before he started thinking to be a priest,” said Antoinette, who met her husband in Malta in 1977 before immigrating to Canada and starting the business together in the early 1980s. “He’s one of our customers. He would come in to buy our specialty pastizzis, and if we needed (help) with something we would ask for advice, especially my husband Charlie. We wish all God’s blessings for his new mission.”

“When you know it’s someone from Malta, you feel proud,” said Charile. “But when you know the person personally, it brings you more joy.”

Due to the limited capacity at churches under COVID-19 restrictions in Ontario, the bake shop — just steps away from St. Paul the Apostle Church which was built by the Maltese-Canadian community in the 1930s — has not seen its usual rush of customers stopping by after Mass for some food and socializing. Open for take-out only, the Buttigiegs, who call their customers “family,” say the announcement has been a much-needed shot in the arm at a time when the community has not been able to connect as it normally does. 

“It is God’s blessing to have someone be chosen from our community,” said Antoinette. “To have (Camilleri) chosen for higher rank in the Church and also our bishop in Malta became a cardinal, we find that we are more blessed. From the time when St. Paul brought the faith to our island, we feel we are very blessed to have the Catholic faith keep going at this difficult time.”

With a population of roughly half a million people in Malta, Micallef celebrates the contribution of the small island state’s missionaries and priests, who are serving in various capacities across the globe. The community in Toronto has also been aware, not without a good measure of pride, over the years that Camilleri is just one of several priests of Maltese descent serving the archdiocese at different levels. 

“The appointment of Fr. Ivan is seen as both an acknowledgement of his giftedness and another contribution of the community to the archdiocese,” said Micallef. “The Maltese community is sure that Fr. Ivan will serve the archdiocese with the same zeal that the apostle Paul served his own communities. On the other hand, the new bishop can be assured of the prayerful support of many of his fellow countrymen and women in Toronto.”

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