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Today marks 50 years since episcopal consecration of Bishop Edward Rapallo

Top View Magazine Mockup by Anthony Boyd Graphics

October 7, 1973 was a special day for Mgr Edward Rapallo, and for Gibraltar. That day witnessed the episcopal consecration of the first Gibraltarian titular bishop of Gibraltar. To mark this important anniversary in the history of the Catholic Church in Gibraltar, Richard Garcia was invited by the Church to write the bishop’s biography.
It was launched yesterday at the Catholic Community Centre by Bishop Zammit.
The book is entitled ‘The First and the Last: the Life and Times of Bishop Edward Rapallo’. The title reflects that Bishop Rapallo was the first Gibraltarian Bishop of Gibraltar, and that he was the last of the Rapallo family to be born in Gibraltar. Bishop Rapallo was survived by his two sisters, and when they died, the surname ceased to exist in Gibraltar.
The book is available from the Cathedral Bookshop, the Gibraltar Heritage Trust and the new bookshop at Ince’s Hall.
In today’s article Richard Garcia sets the scene for Bishop Rapallo’s anniversary.

From a young age, Eddie Rapallo knew that he wanted to become a priest. He was a gifted scholar and a linguist, and after completing his studies in Salamanca, Spain and in Rome, the Vatican wanted to retain him at the heart of the Catholic Church. Bishop Fitzgerald, who was then Bishop of Gibraltar, was adamant that he was needed in Gibraltar as there was a shortage of priests, and so the newly ordained Fr Rapallo returned to his native city.

Back in Gibraltar, he was an asset to Bishop Fitzgerald, and he was appointed as the bishop’s secretary. Indeed, when Bishop Fitzgerald died, many thought that he would be the new bishop, despite Fr Rapallo’s youth. Instead, Bishop Healy was appointed by the Vatican, and Fr Rapallo served under him in a number of roles including Vicar General, Cathedral Administrator and choir master. Bishop Healy did not like to deal with administrative matters, so Fr Rapallo saw to much of this.

His experience with Bishop Fitzgerald and with Bishop Healy was later to stand him in good stead. Monsignor Rapallo was at Bishop Healy’s side when he died on 19 March 1973. That day was actually Mgr Rapallo’s 59th birthday. By that stage, it was obvious that he was the natural successor as Bishop of Gibraltar. Indeed, years before, Bishop Fitzgerald had told Fr Rapallo that he should aspire to the highest office in the Church in Gibraltar, and that Gibraltarians should be future titular bishops of Gibraltar.

When the news eventually broke that Mgr Rapallo was the new bishop, the whole of Gibraltar was delighted and excited. At last, a Gibraltarian was to be the titular bishop of Gibraltar. This is not to say that no Gibraltarians had ever previously been appointed bishops. Bishop Porro, Bishop Scandella and Bishop Canilla were all Gibraltarian bishops. The difference is that Bishop Porro was appointed to Louisiana in the United States of America (and he actually took up a position as bishop of the Spanish diocese of Tarazona in the north of Spain), and that Bishops Scandella and Canilla were appointed as bishops of Antinoë and Lystra, respectively, and Vicars Apostolic of Gibraltar. Other Gibraltarians were also appointed bishops in England, notably Bishop Amigo and Bishop Bowen, both of whom were later appointed Archbishops.

The episcopal consecration of Bishop Rapallo on Sunday 7 October 1973, fifty years ago, was a grand affair. Royal Air Force Gibraltar, then under the command of Air Commodore Charles Ness, helped out enormously, making available a hangar at RAF North Front for the Mass of consecration and providing parking for a very large number of cars in the South Dispersal area of the runway. The hangar provided seating for 3,000 persons, including the 700 guests and ticket holders. The guests included Marshal of the Air Force Sir John Grandy, who had arrived as Governor of Gibraltar just four days earlier, and Lady Grandy. Mother Francis, the foundress of the Order of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood, who ran the recently opened Mount Alvernia in Gibraltar, was also present.

Archbishop Domenico Enrici was the principal concelebrant, and he was assisted by Bishop Bowen and Bishop Henderson. Archbishop Enrici was the representative of the Vatican for the United Kingdom and Gibraltar, and was based in London. It was he who had telephoned Mgr Rapallo to tell him that he had been appointed by Pope Paul VI as Bishop of Gibraltar.

There was a scare immediately before the episcopal consecration. On 6 October, the day before the consecration, the Yom Kippur war broke out. The nations at war were Israel and the combined forces of Egypt and Syria. It was feared that the outbreak of the war would impact on civilian flights, which might all be cancelled, and that one or more of the consecrating bishops would be unable to arrive on time. Frantic calls were made to the Vatican to request permission for the episcopal consecration to be carried out by just one bishop, should this prove necessary.

In the event, all three consecrating bishops made it safely to Gibraltar on time. The crisis was over and the Mass of consecration went ahead at 3 o’clock in the afternoon of Sunday 7 October 1973, as planned. Indeed, a number of other bishops also travelled to Gibraltar specially to be present at the event. They included the elderly Archbishop Francisco Aldegrunde of Tangier, an old friend of Gibraltar. It was he who had presided over the funeral of Bishop Fitzgerald in 1956 at the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned.

The Mass in the hangar was long remembered by those who were there. Indeed, the RAF nicknamed the hangar “the Holy Hangar”, and the name stuck for a very long time. The music at the episcopal consecration was provided by a large choir of 200 school children under the baton of Hector Cortes. The organ was played by Michael Davis, at the request of Mgr Rapallo, who had to travel to Gibraltar specially for the Mass as he was then at school at Prior Park near Bath. In addition, the regimental band of the 3rd Queens, then the resident battalion in Gibraltar, played at the Mass. A special fanfare for the occasion, composed by Gibraltarian Pepe Noguera, was played by the regimental band.

Gifts were given to the new Bishop. Pope Paul VI sent him a silver pectoral cross, which a bishop wears on his chest. Alfred Vasquez (later Sir Alfred), who was then Speaker of the House of Assembly and Mayor, was entrusted with collecting the pectoral cross from the Apostolic Delegation in London and delivering it to the new bishop. Mgr Rapallo’s two sisters and brother gave him their personal gifts, which they carried up at the offertory procession. The youngest person in the procession was five-year old Darren Durante. He carried a gift of a pen holder, made of highly polished coconut, on which the bishop’s episcopal arms had been engraved by his father, J Durante, using a scalpel and a chisel.

The people of Gibraltar had also been invited to contribute money for a gift for the bishop, and there were several collecting points including one at Catalan Bay. The money was used for a chalice and paten, for a new car for the bishop, and the balance was given in the form of a cheque. Rev Keith Jefferies, the minister at the Methodist Church, also had a gift for the new bishop: a chasuble that had been ordered from Rome. Unfortunately, it arrived too late for the presentation to be made at the Mass of consecration.

Following the Mass in the Holy Hangar, the new Bishop had to take canonical possession of his cathedral, the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned. The ceremony began at 6 p.m. with the new bishop, the consecrating bishops and the other bishops and clergy who had attended the Mass of consecration leaving the House of Assembly in a procession that was led by the brass section of the Gibraltar Youth Orchestra. Soldiers of the Gibraltar Regiment (now the Royal Gibraltar Regiment) lined part of the route. They were under the command of the charismatic Captain Momy Levy. To the sound of the pealing Cathedral bells, Bishop Rapallo was conducted to his seat in the Cathedral, which is known in Latin as the cathedra. It is the seat that gives the cathedral its name.

The very full day ended with a reception at the Catholic Community Centre, where the new bishop was happy to greet friends and parishioners. It was fitting that this should have been the venue, as it was Mgr Rapallo’s vision and fund raising that had enabled the construction of the centre in the first place. The centre was designed by Gibraltarian architect Natalio Langdon.

Bishop Rapallo then had to get down to work. Over the next eleven years he achieved a huge amount for the Catholic Church in Gibraltar. It was on his watch that the parishes of St Theresa, the Sacred Heart and St Paul’s were created; St Paul’s church was built, to a design of architect Mario Sanguinetti; the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned, St Joseph’s Church and the Shrine of Our Lady of Europe were all consecrated; the cathedral was fully redecorated; and much more.

However, there were also difficult days ahead for the new bishop. It came as a shock to him when the Christian Brothers announced that they were leaving Gibraltar. He tried his hardest to delay their departure. Maintaining the quality of education for Gibraltarian youth was always something that the bishop worried about. Change there was, and this had to be managed.

There were also worries arising from the sharply rising costs of maintaining Mount Alvernia, Bethany (the Anglican Home) and the Jewish Home. All three homes for the elderly had been built by the trustees of the will of John Mackintosh and at the time they were run by the Mackintosh trust. The Bishop was for many years one of the trustees who looked after the management of the three homes. At this time, meeting all the operating costs of the three homes was becoming increasingly difficult at a time of rampant inflation and large increases in salaries and wages for staff.

There was also work to be done in progressing Christian Unity. Bishop Rapallo worked hard together with his fellow priests and ministers of other Christian denominations in order to advance Christian Unity in Gibraltar. He was a regular presence in the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity on important occasions, and invited the Dean to participate in services at the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned. The bishop arranged for the annual Battle of Britain remembrance service to be held in each of the two cathedrals, on alternate years. The Outdoor Stations of the Cross on Good Friday became an ecumenical event.

All of this occurred against a backdrop of a closed land frontier between Spain and Gibraltar. The Franco government in Spain had closed the frontier in 1969, four years before Mgr Rapallo’s elevation to the episcopate, and it was only partially reopened by the democratic government in Spain in December 1982. Bishop Rapallo never saw the full reopening of the frontier, as he died in February 1984. During the time that the frontier was only partially open, he never went to Spain in solidarity with the Maltese priests who were then serving in Gibraltar who were themselves unable to cross the frontier as they did not hold British passports.

Bishop Rapallo was in office at a time of great upheaval and change for Gibraltar, as it moved from an economy that was over-reliant on Ministry of Defence spending to a self-sustaining economy. It was a time of social change, with Gibraltarians beginning to hold the highest public offices, and with parity of pay with the United Kingdom for public service employees leading to a much more prosperous community. It was also a time when ordinary people were aspiring for more and better.

His steady hand at the helm of the Catholic Church in Gibraltar, leading it in new directions, attracted many people. His biography shows that he was a man of God and a person of deep faith, and he was also a proud Gibraltarian, who worked hard for the community that he deeply cared about.

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