‘You must be perfect / holy as your heavenly Father is perfect / holy!’ Created in the image and likeness of God, we are to have God’s perfect love as our one and only model in life. God loves everyone equally and does not hesitate to send his sun and rain on everyone, good and bad alike. Likewise, we are to love all our sisters and brothers equally.
‘Resist no one,’ and if anyone insults you, do not insult him back but let God be the judge for any insults received. As Christians, our job is simply to love one another, friend and foe, as God loves us all equally.
One of De Piro’s contemporaries said that the Servant of God did not have any enemies. In the analytical index of the witnesses about De Piro, the words ‘enemy’ or ‘enemies’ are exceptionally rare. Some did not support De Piro in his projects and others obstructed him in his duties; De Piro showed his love towards all of these.
De Piro’s love towards those who did not support him.
Since his days at the Capranica and in Davos, the Servant of God had been in contact with Fr Emmanuel Vassallo and Fr George Bugeja. He expressed with them his wish to join them at St Joseph’s Orphanage, after finishing his studies. Yet, when he returned to Malta, neither Vassallo nor Bugeja invited him to stay at the orphanage. When Bugeja needed help at the orphanage, he approached De Piro to help him personally, or through the members of his missionary society. De Piro did not feel offended, and did not hesitate to give his support.
The Vatican Congregation of Propaganda Fide could not comprehend whether the real nature of the society set up by De Piro was to minister among Maltese expatriates or to evangelise in ad gentes countries. Consequently, his society was refused affiliation with this congregation and was not recommended for the decretum laudis. De Piro was very clear about his society’s charism and he believed he had clearly explained this at Propaganda Fide. Perhaps he would have been justified, had he responded aggressively in his communication with the prefect and the other officials of this congregation. Notwithstanding, the Servant of God wrote a letter to Mgr Camillo Laurenti, secretary of Propaganda Fide, expressing his gratitude when his congregation offered to recommend him to the Congregation for Religious.
Since it has been deemed necessary to direct me to the Congregation for Religious, I am extremely grateful for the offer by the Congregation of Propaganda Fide, to recommend me to the Congregation for Religious. I gratefully accept this offer and trust that it will help me attain the canonical erection that I need so badly.
Some members of the Maltese clergy could not understand De Piro’s ‘idea;’ some actively tried to hinder his projects. Fr Louis Gatt, one of the first members of the society, spoke clearly about the founder’s reaction to this opposition: “He was never angry at those who opposed him; he often said that he offered up everything to Jesus.”
Fr George Bugeja and Fr John Mamo, who had supported De Piro before the start of the society, left him a short time before its beginning. Bugeja returned to St Joseph’s Orphanage, and Mamo went to the institute he had opened at Tarxien. We have no information regarding the way De Piro reacted to Mamo’s decision, but we know that he continued to support Bugeja at the orphanage.
The conduct of some of the early members of the society towards the founder was not always positive. Fr John Vella, one of the first two members to join the society, admitted: “I caused De Piro lots of trouble; I often answered him back.” Vella noted that the founder never raised his voice at the members who were disrespectful.
Some of those who joined the society did not stay for long, often leaving after having received a good high school education. Fr Anton Buhagiar, and others who observed this, were very upset at this behaviour. The Servant of God, who had fully supported these members, reacted differently:
I do not care if they leave. I am happy that they have received a good formation that will serve them well into the future. Jesus never forced his disciples to stay; who am I to impose anything different on them? God knows how to make use of the formation they have received. The good they received will one day give fruit.
Mother Pacifica Xuereb said that De Piro paid for the education of a young man from Sicily, who had expressed his wish to become priest. After having received his academic formation, this young man too left without studying for the priesthood.
Other people were even hostile. One of these was Maria Assunta Borg, who worked at the Sacred Heart Workshop. De Piro behaved charitably towards her; he entrusted with the money and the furniture at the workshop after it had stopped operating.
During the riots of the 7th June 1919 riots, De Piro was insulted on at least three occasions. In the afternoon of Saturday 7th June, the Servant of God was going to the Law Courts with lawyers Alfred Caruana Gatto and Serafin Vella. They were working hard to persuade the Lieutenant Governor to withdraw the British soldiers who were firing live rounds onto the Maltese crowd. The angry mob turned onto the three men, addressing De Piro in particular, blaming them for what had happened. On Sunday afternoon De Piro and Caruana Gatto were on the steps of the opera house, trying to calm the people who had attacked the Francia residence. Some criminals in the crowd jeered and swore at them and even stole their money. On Monday morning, De Piro and Auxiliary Bishop Angelo Portelli addressed the crowds from the Archbishop’s Palace, trying to calm them down. The Servant of God asked the crowd what it was they wanted to do. Some shouted: “We want to burn down the bishop’s office.” De Piro was certainly saddened by this! Yet he responded positively to each of these offences coming from those he was trying to help. He continued to address them as ‘sons and daughters.’ Moreover, when he was called to give witness in front of the inquest commission, he did not mention any of these incidents.
De Piro thought of himself as a sinner and an enemy of God. God’s love towards him, a sinner, helped him reach out to those who opposed him.
When he was discerning his vocation, at the age of 21, he wrote the reasons in favour and against his wanting to become a priest. One of the reasons in favour of the priesthood was the knowledge that God had suffered so much for him, a sinner: “The desire to give myself totally to God; He who suffered so much for my sins.”
In December 1901, discerning whether to continue his studies as a Church diplomat or go to St Joseph’s Orphanage, De Piro again put down reasons in favour and against both options. Joseph De Piro again mentioned God’s love for him, a sinner. Twice he acknowledged God’s love of him in choosing him to become a priest, knowing that he was an enemy of God through his sins.
In his homilies about God, De Piro usually spoke about Jesus. On the few occasions when he spoke about God the Father, he continually underlined divine mercy and forgiveness for the sinner, God’s enemy: “God is forever patient and waits for us; not because he is unable to punish, or because he does not hate sin. He waits, giving us time to change our life and to do penance.”
On another occasion De Piro preached: “God waits, God calls us.” In a homily about Our Lady, he spoke about the Father: “… God … our loving Father, knows the weaknesses of his children. He is a Father of boundless goodness who will never abandon the sinner ….”
Speaking about the Son, De Piro affirmed that Jesus’ work of redemption, saving us, his enemies, was his greatest action. “The most marvellous action, from which the Incarnate Word draws his glory, is without doubt his being Universal Redeemer.”
The Servant of God often quoted to the Pauline letters. Thirty-one of these quotes are from Paul’s letter to the Romans, where the emphasis is on the glory of God’s love for us. Fifteen times he quoted the letter to the Galatians (2:20), where Paul speaks of Jesus as sacrificing himself for the apostle. De Piro quotes Galatians (2:20) in his homily about the Eucharist. Here he showed his conviction that at the centre of the Eucharist is Christ’s love for sinful humanity!