The ordination as Archbishop of the Gibraltarian priest Mark Miles was a family affair in one sense. But the event last Saturday 25th of April 2021 at the Sports Park at Europa Point, a short walk from the Shrine of Our Lady of Europe was much more.
The 53-year-old Archbishop was surrounded by his siblings and other family members and friends and at various times during the ceremony, there was palpable emotion including when he recalled his late parents.
The Miles family is very long established in Gibraltar, and in recent times have produced individuals prominent in the medical, financial services, engineering, and legal fields.
The wider family was, of course, the Catholic Church of Gibraltar.
Over 800 Catholics and other citizens accompanied the Bishop of Gibraltar, Monsignor Carmel Zammit, and the rest of the local clergy.
Thousands more watched the event live on GBC TV who, by all accounts, outdid themselves in terms of quality coverage and several readers told ReachExtra that they were glued to their screens throughout the 2-hour ceremony.
Certainly, the area of the temporary altar exuded the colour and atmosphere for which the Church is renowned.
At the end of the ceremony, the Diocesan Choir led the congregation in a heartfelt rendition of the “Ave Maria”, following an arrangement by the late Gibraltarian guitar virtuoso William Gomez (1939-2000), in Spanish.
As the first few notes of the prayer powered through the Hall, the new Archbishop, whose every expression and gesture were captured on the large screens on either side of the altar, was visibly moved.
Miles’ body language and facial expressions have previously been complimented by the Catholic press covering events in which he accompanied Pope Francis as English interpreter. In the Philippines he even has a fan club!
The Catholic Church in Gibraltar has long taken the mantle of the “silent majority”, but on this occasion, silence was replaced by a devotional sound that, frankly, is not often heard, or at least not as emphatically and harmoniously as it was last Sunday.
Mark Miles is himself an accomplished musician, and it was once thought that he would follow a career in music but he chose the seminary.
The new Archbishop’s many years in the Vatican’s diplomatic corps showed when, after having thanked the local authorities for their assistance to the Vicar General Mgr. John Pardo and Mgr. Charles Azzopardi in the organization of the event, he reminded those present including local politicians that the effort to save the lives of the elderly during the current pandemic should be an example of the value of all life.
This was a clear reference to the abortion referendum which the current government called in July 2019 and is now going to be held on the 24th of June of this year, amid unprecedented division and acrimony among Gibraltarians of all faiths and none.
His gentle words could not have had a more forceful impact.
For Archbishop Miles (as he now is) attended the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in Rome shortly after his ordination as a priest in 1996. The academy trains priests to serve the Vatican’s diplomatic corps; the oldest in the world.
Since 2003, he has served in the Secretariat of State of the Holy See in Ecuador and Hungary.
He came to international fame as an English-language interpreter for Pope Francis who first introduced him to the faithful in 2015 at a mass gathering in Tacloban City in the Philippines.
In 2019, Monsignor Miles was appointed permanent Observer of the Holy See to the Organisation of American States in New York.
Now, he has been appointed Apostolic Nuncio to the Republic of Benin and the Togolese Republic in Africa and the Pope thought it proper that he should be appointed to the titular archbishopric of Civitas Ducalis in Italy.
A Nuncio is a papal ambassador to a state or an organisation.
Monsignor Paul Bear of St Joseph’s Church in Gibraltar read out to the officiating cardinal His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Pope Francis’ letter of appointment in which His Holiness remarked that having been born in the Pillars of Hercules, which was in classical times thought to be the end of the world, Monsignor Miles destiny had been to carry out his duties on behalf of the Church around the world.
Also read out were letters of congratulation were also read out from the episcopal conferences of Togo and Benin, in each of which countries more than 25% of the populations are Catholics, They expressed pleasure at the appointment and regret that the bishops of those countries had not been able to travel to Gibraltar on account of the current world health crisis.
The consecrating bishops were Cardinal Parolin, who is the Secretary of State of His Holiness Pope Francis, His Grace the Most Reverend Arthur Roche, Archbishop of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and his Lordship the Right Reverend Carmel Zammit Bishop of Gibraltar.
There were several other bishops and friends of Monsignor Miles from Rome and other parts of the world, including Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s English born Foreign Minister.
Thus, the ceremony combined elements of the Archbishop’s family life and friends in Gibraltar, a continuing devotion to the Catholic Church in this city and the quiet but impressive show of strength of the 2,000-year-old Church, whose governing structures have survived two millennia of challenges and empires which have come and gone.
The amiable figure of Cardinal Parolin did not obscure his preeminent international position as the Secretary of State of His Holiness the Pope, effectively his Prime Minister and the person responsible for all political and diplomatic functions at the Vatican.
Recently, he has been in the news on account of his close involvement in the crisis in China where the Chinese Communist Party has been at loggerheads with the Chinese Catholic Church.
His diplomatic skills have also had to be deployed in the defense of Christians in Syria, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East.
Monsignor Mark Miles’ affable “local boy makes good” image is only part of the story…
He is near the epicentre of Catholic diplomacy worldwide and given his relatively young age, many believe that he has still further to go.
Although Archbishop Miles is the first archbishop to be ordained from the Gibraltar clergy and the first Gibraltarian papal nuncio, he is not the first Gibraltarian archbishop.
Michael George Bowen, who was born in Gibraltar in Gibraltar where his maternal grandparents came from, had been a wine merchant with Saccone & Speed before was ordained a priest in 1958.
In 1977, after 6 years as bishop of Arundel and Brighton he was ordained Archbishop of Southwark in London in 1977, a post which he held until 2003. He died on the 17th October 2019 aged 89.
A predecessor of Archbishop Bowen at Southwark was Archbishop Peter Amigo who was born in Gibraltar in 1864 to the large family of a local flour merchant.
One of the apartment blocks at Glacis Estate in the North District of Gibraltar bears his name. He courted controversy in 1920 by allowing the funeral of an Irish republican hunger striker to take place in Southwark Cathedral but also great popularity among the large Irish Catholic population in England.
He founded the famous John Fisher School and was conferred the personal title of archbishop by the Pope in 1938.
Although not ordained an archbishop Francisco Bartolomé Porró y Reinado, who was born in Gibraltar in 1739 of mixed Genoese and Spanish heritage was briefly the bishop of Louisiana and the Two Floridas and then Tarrazona in Spain. He was appointed Papal Chamberlain.