In this Sunday’s readings we hear two parables that speak about vineyards. Vineyards were special fields that were very carefully looked after in order to produce the best wine possible. In the first reading we are given a description of the special attention given to the vineyard which is then expected to produce good fruit.
In the gospel, Jesus speaks of a second vineyard that the Father owns. The Father also expects fruit from his vineyard and sends messengers to collect the produce. When the tenants refuse to give him what they owe, he sends his only Son to pick up their dues.
The Lord’s vineyard is the people of God in the Old Testament, it is us in the New Testament. God looks after us and protects us, expecting us to produce fruit in due season. This fruit is the sign of our gratitude for God’s care and concern. If we refuse to not produce fruit, then we will not be worthy of the vineyard and it will be taken away from us.
Gratitude to God is an important element of our spirituality, as it was for Joseph De Piro.
De Piro was grateful to God and to people around him.
Joseph De Piro considered gratitude to be an important virtue. At the opening and blessing of the new orphanage for boys, in Gozo, he said:
“It is said that ingratitude is so great a crime that no human legislator has so far discovered a commensurate punishment; this has been reserved to the Eternal Lawgiver….”
The virtue of gratitude helped De Piro live and work with those around him. He appreciated everything that was done for him. Helen Muscat, who had lived at Fra Diegu Orphanage, invited the Servant of God to be the celebrant at her wedding. On her wedding day De Piro told her:
“I am very happy to be at your wedding. No other girl from the orphanage has ever invited me to celebrate at her wedding. This is the very first wedding I have celebrated for a girl from the orphanage.”
Sr Consiglia Vassallo and Sr Felice Vella, who worked at Fra Diegu Orphanage, said that,
“On the twenty-fifth anniversary of becoming director of the orphanage, De Piro was given some hand-made lace for his alb. With great simplicity he tried the lace on to show how grateful he was.”
When he served as rector of the major diocesan seminary in Malta, the seminarians organised a feast to celebrate his birthday and his name day. These were also celebrated by the members of his society, and the children in the orphanages under his direction. On these occasions he expressed deep appreciation for the celebrations in his name.
Joseph De Piro appreciated and recognised the efforts of those who had tried to initiate projects similar to the ones he started or was directing. In his address at the opening of St Joseph’s Orphanage in Gozo, he spoke about Mgr Peter Pace, who had been bishop of Gozo, Fr George Bugeja, previous director at St Joseph’s Orphanage in Malta, and those who had tried to start the boys’ orphanage in Gozo. Similarly, in the short address welcoming Archbishop Peter Pace to the blessing and opening of the first house of the society, De Piro made reference to Mgr Francis Bonnici and Mgr Emmanuel Debono, two zealous priests who had unsuccessfully attempted a similar initiative.
De Piro showed gratitude towards the founders of the orphanages in his care; in his will he nominated a stipend for a Mass to be celebrated annually on 13th January, for the repose of Br Diegu Bonanno ofm cap, founder of the girls’ orphanage that carries his name. During his address at the opening of the new building to house the Jesus of Nazareth Orphanage, the Servant of God expressed his satisfaction at the work on the building. He also spoke about the gratitude of Miss Guzeppina Curmi, the foundress of the orphanage. Finally, in the address to Bishop Gonzi, at the opening of the orphanage in Gozo, De Piro expressed his appreciation for the efforts done by parish priests in the diocese, to open their own orphanage.
De Piro was grateful to his successors in the direction of the Fra Diegu Orphanage, mentioning them in his will. He also mentioned priests who had ministered, were still working or were going to give their ministry in the future at this orphanage. He also thanked the religious sisters who were in charge of the daily running of the orphanage. During his address at the opening of the Jesus of Nazareth Orphanage, De Piro acknowledged the role of those who had supported the foundress, and in a report to Archbishop Mauro Caruana, the Servant of God listed the services afforded him in favour of the poor and needy girls. He mentioned that there were women who were generously assisting with great of self-denial.
De Piro especially appreciated benefactors’ support; they helped in many of his apostolates. Mother Cleophas Bondin noticed the gratitude of the Director in relation to the benefactors of Fra Diegu Orphanage. “The benefactors of the orphanage were very important for De Piro. He organised fairs and recreation, and he invited members of the nobility to attend.” At the opening of the Jesus of Nazareth Orphanage in Zejtun, the Servant of God addressed the benefactors: “At this point allow me to thank the benefactors, docile instruments in God’s hands. With their spontaneous and inspired help, they made it possible for the first phase of this social and Christian institution to be completed. We received great support: this underlines the meaning to the saying ‘the roads of Providence are numerous.’ What glorified God immensely, Your Grace will be pleased and consoled to hear, was the evangelical modesty with which this help was given, as if brought by angels. There were instances where we did not get to know who the benefactor was. On our part, we humbly invoked the Almighty to repay them all with the promised hundredfold. Today, to better satisfy this our duty, in the name of the whole orphanage, we ask you to remember these benefactors while celebrating Mass for the first time in this building.”
Loreto Rapa spoke about the director’s appreciation of the benefactors of St Joseph’s Orphanage, Gozo. Concetta Sciberras, whose family had helped the same orphanage, said that the Servant of God, “… welcomed us and was very pleased with our presence. He said that the orphanage owed its existence to us. In a few words, he showed great appreciation for our work in favour of the orphanage.” Joseph De Piro, in his speech at the opening ceremony of the Gozo orphanage, said: “May our appreciation reach the ears of a discrete number of benefactors who, like a swarm of bees, were attracted to us, looking for ways to provide us with the honey and wax needed to keep this apiary active, for the benefit of the poor boys in Gozo.” Moreover, the Servant of God showed his gratitude to the benefactors of his society by publishing their names in the ‘San Paul: Almanakk tal-Istitut tal-Missjoni.’ He also published short information contributions given for the society’s Abyssinia mission.
De Piro did not discriminate in this gratitude towards the benefactors of the institutions under his care, he thanked big and small contributors alike. This was witnessed by Mother Pacifica Xuereb of Fra Diegu Orphanage: “Whenever Providence knocked at the door, or I informed him of a donation received, he would promptly write a note of thanks to the donor. When the donation was small, and he wrote a note of thanks, I protested, ‘Why are you sending a note for such a small amount?’ He replied, ‘Small and big things are the equal in God’s eyes. One can give a little and another can give more, yet they both have the same value. Always be grateful for whatever comes as a Providence.”
The Servant of God was also grateful and appreciated any support and backing afforded him in his apostolate by the members of Church hierarchy. In the speech delivered at the opening ceremony of the new building for the Jesus of Nazareth Orphanage in Zejtun, the director spoke about the support he received from Archbishop Mauro Caruana. In the speech at the opening ceremony of St Joseph’s Orphanage, Gozo, addressed to the diocesan bishop, the Servant of God showed his gratitude towards the bishop for his efforts towards the opening of the orphanage. He told Bishop Gonzi: “Many heartfelt thanks to you, for the generosity and self-denial with which you welcomed in your diocese a branch of St Joseph’s Home of Hamrun. The way you treated us will remain for me and for my successors an example and an incentive for us to work hard for the development and completion of this orphanage….”
In the above speech the Servant of God thanked Archbishop Mauro Caruana, for making it possible to have an extension of St Joseph’s Orphanage, in Gozo, and the civil authorities for their support. De Piro thanked, “… the members of government of these islands, and of the two houses of parliament, for the financial aid given to this nascent institution.” The director delivered a second address to the Governor General, who De Piro invited to declare the orphanage open.
De Piro thanked the civil authorities in his correspondence with them. He always thanked those who helped him when he requesting something for St Joseph’s Orphanages in Malta and in Gozo, for the Oratory at Birkirkara, or for his society.
De Piro was realistic and down-to-earth. When working for a project, he never lost sight of what had not yet been achieved, yet his virtue of gratitude made him appreciate what had already been done. By 1930 the Servant of God had worked hard to see the first part of the new building to house the Jesus of Nazareth Orphanage finished, yet there was still more to be done. At the opening of this building he said, “Today’s holy and cherished ceremony, is the first step of the journey ahead of us. It is a sweet oasis, that renews our determination to continue the journey; it is the first step of a steep stairway.”
De Piro was certainly grateful to God and his providence. He had been discerning his vocation to the priesthood since he was 14. For some years he had forgotten about it, until he wrote the reasons in favour and against his vocation. Among the reasons in favour he wrote: “The desire to give myself totally to God; He who suffered so much for my sins.”
De Piro often preached about his gratitude to God and his divine love. In a most explicit way his sermons about the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Eucharist and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, were a continuous acknowledgement of the divine love. Although in other sermons the Servant of God spoke about other topics, he expressed his gratitude to the divine love. In his 1924 issue of ‘San Paul: Almanakk tal-Istitut tal-Missjoni,’ De Piro published an article called ‘Treasures.’ Here the Servant of God reminded the readers about some God’s gifts to us: faith, fatherland and the virtue of charity. About the last one he wrote: “Charity is treasure above all treasures; it is the queen of virtues, the fullness of perfection, God himself. And who is like God? Humanity’s first and greatest obligation is to love, first and above all else, the great God our Lord, because we owe everything we are and all that we have to Him alone.”
In his first diary entry Joseph De Piro said that after his priestly ordination he wished to join the community of priests already living at St Joseph’s Orphanage in Hamrun. A little later he wrote “… from this orphanage God wants to establish in Malta a congregation of priests ….” He clearly acknowledged that the congregation was not his, but God’s project.
In his correspondence with both local and Vatican Church authorities, he repeatedly expressed his gratitude towards God’s help for him and the members of his society. In a brief note about the early years of the society, on 22nd August 1916, the founder wrote that, “… on the other hand Divine Providence did not fail to soothe our troubles by inserting sweet consolations among our setbacks….”
He also often used expressions like: … thanks to God … and … I thank Divine Providence …
Francis Scerri, a lay catechist at the Birkirkara Oratory, spoke about De Piro’s acknowledgement of God’s help in his life, “As soon he finished something he was doing, he went to the chapel to pray.”
De Piro’s acknowledgement of God’s help in the life of the society is expressed most clearly in the use of Psalm 127(126):1 at the beginning of each one of the three sections of the constitutions, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.”