RIP Bishop Sylvester Carmel Magro

On 20 January 2018, at Mater Dei Hospital, Msida, Malta, Msgr. Sylvester Carmel Magro, Apostolic Vicar Emeritus of Benghazi and Titular Bishop of Salde, went to meet the Risen Lord. Sylvester Carmel Magro was born in Rabat, Malta, on 14 February 1941. He studied at Stella Maris College in Gzira. He entered the Franciscan OFM Province of St. Paul the Apostle in Malta on 12 October 1957. After the Novitiate he made his Temporary Profession on 13 October 1958, and on 18 March 1962 he made his Solemn Profession. He studied philosophy and theology in the Studium of the Province in the friary of Saint Mary of Jesus of Rabat. On 26 March 1966 he was ordained priest by Archbishop Michael Gonzi.

After his ordination he was sent for higher studies at the Pontificium Athenaeum Antonianum (PUA) in Rome, where he studied dogmatic and pastoral theology. Back in the Maltese Province he was assigned to the friary of Rabat as Master of Students, Lecturer and Prefect of Studies. Between 1982 and 1988 he was parish priest of the Franciscan Parish of the Virgin Mary of the Sacred Heart (Sacro Cuor) in Sliema, Malta.

In 1988 Fr. Magro offered his services to the Franciscan mission of Libya, at the time under the care of the Franciscan Province of Milan, under the direction of the Apostolic Administrator Msgr. Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli OFM. In 1991 the mission was entrusted to the care of the Maltese Franciscan Province. Fr. Magro became Vicar General of Msgr. Martinelli and chaplain to the English-speaking community in Libya, among which were many Maltese workers.

In 1997, after agreements between the Vatican and the Libyan Arab Republic, Pope St. John Paul II nominated Fr. Sylvester Carmel Magro Apostolic Vicar of Benghazi and Titular Bishop of Salde. The region of Cyrenaica in Libya, with the city of Benghazi, had formerly been under the direction of an Apostolic Vicar and under the care of the Franciscan Province of Liguria. The last Apostolic Vicar was Msgr. Giustino Pastorino (1965-1997), who had to leave Benghazi in 1970 after the September Revolution.  Sylvester Magro was consecrated Bishop on 11 May 1997 at St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta, Malta, by the Apostolic Nuncio to Malta, Msgr. José Sebastián Laboa Gallego, assisted by Msgr. Ġużeppi Mercieca, Archbishop of Malta, and Bishop Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli, Apostolic Vicar of Tripoli.

Bishop Magro continued his pastoral activity in Libya from 1997 till 2016, in close collaboration with Bishop Giovanni Martinelli. He engaged in the care of the immigrant workers present in Libya at the time, particularly those of the numerous communities of Filippinos, Polish, Maltese and other countries from Africa and the Middle East. He also worked hard to restore the Franciscan church of the Immaculate Conception of Benghazi, given that the former cathedral had been taken over by the regime and was closed. At the Franciscan friary and church of the Immaculate Conception he also built a small house to serve as residence for the Apostolic Administrator. Unfortunately the whole complex had to be abandoned when Islamic extremists took over Benghazi and the Franciscan friary became an arms depot. From the latest reports and photos the whole complex appears in a sad state of total destruction.

In 2002 Msgr. Magro was decorated with ‘The Cross of the Equestrian Order of Merit’ by the Polish President, as an act of gratitude for his work in favour of the Polish workers residing in Libya.

Msgr. Magro was also fond of his island home of Malta, and especially of the Franciscan church of Saint Mary of Jesus in Rabat, where he grew up as a child. He was punctual in his annual participation to the feast of Saint Joseph, celebrated in the same church by the Archconfraternity of St. Joseph and the Franciscan community every year on 19 March. The nephew of Msgr. Magro, Fr. Joseph Magro OFM, also became a Franciscan, and for a number of years (2011-2016) was director of the Communications Office at the General Curia in Rome.

As a result of the turbulent political situation in Libya after the overthrow of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi (20 October 2011), the Christian communities of workers in Libya soon had to abandon the country, especially in the area of Benghazi, which was taken over by extremist rebels belonging to ISIS. Bishop Magro and the few Franciscan friars resident in Benghazi had to leave the friary. For a brief period they were able to remain in Benghazi with the help of the communities of female religious still present in the city in hospitals, but when these also had to flee the country the Franciscan presence in Benghazi had to be abandoned, and the Bishop and friars transferred to Tripoli. In the meantime Bishop Magro was suffering from a progressive deterioration of his physical health, and when the condition worsened he retired to Malta in 2016 in the Franciscan friary of Rabat. He handed his resignation from Apostolic Vicar of Benghazi to Pope Francis on his 75th birthday, 14 February 2016, according to can. 401 § 1 of the Code of Canon Law.

Due to his frail health Bishop Magro was transferred to the “Domus Pacis Franciscan Retirement Friary” at Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq, Malta, in 2017. During the last days of his life he was receiving treatment at the Mater Dei Hospital in Msida, Malta, where sister death called him.

On Sunday 21 January the body of Msgr. Magro was taken to the Franciscan church of Rabat, where he was welcomed by the Franciscan community, the local Christian community, the Archconfraternity of St. Joseph and the local “L’Isle Adam” Band and the Sliema Band. The funeral Mass of Msgr. Sylvester Carmel Magro was celebrated on Monday 22 January at 9.30 a.m. at the Cathedral of St. Paul in Mdina, Malta, by the Archbishop of Malta, Msgr. Charles Jude Scicluna, together with the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Alessandro D’Errico, the Bishop of Gozo, Msgr. Mario Grech, Archbishop Emeritus, Msgr. Paul Cremona OP, the Minister Provincial Fr. Richard Stanley Grech OFM, and other bishops and priests, both Franciscans and other religious and diocesan priests of Malta.

Bishop Sylvester Carmel Magro was 76 years old. He was a Franciscan for 59 years, a priest for 51 years and Bishop for 20 years.