The Martyrdom of St John the Baptist Feast at Xewkija
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Saint John the Baptist has a unique place in the Catholic Church celebrations. St. John is the only Saint whose birthday is celebrated as a feast day. He was born six months before Christ, and died around the age of 31. The Gospels usually refer to him in adulthood, but St. Luke tells us of his infancy and his family. This account determined the date of 24th June as the nativity of St John.
Saint John is called the Baptist because he was the only person in the Old Testament who baptised people. This form of baptism is consecrated with the Baptism of Jesus, Who later on proclaimed it a Sacrament. John is the last one who prophesised the coming of the Messiah. He also indicated HIM. It is known that The Precursor of Christ public ministry’s came to an abrupt end, some six months to a year after the baptism of Jesus. John was beheaded after being imprisoned.
John was pure and devoted. As Jesus’ cousin, he walked all his life in God’s Presence. As a prophet, John was also a person of commitment, righteousness, honour and chaste. He came to confirm the Word of God. Such is John the Baptist’s importance in the Catholic Church that it remembers him on two solemn feasts: – 24th June i.e. on his nativity and the 29th August i.e. the beheading.
Turning our attention to our islands, Xewkija in Gozo, is the only village which since olden days commemorates with pride and pomposity the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist on a Sunday nearer to or after 24th June. Many consider this the first popular feast of the festive season in Gozo.
Since the early centuries the Catholic Church recognised the solemnity of the death of St John the Baptist. Such feast continues to be celebrated throughout the ages on 29th August. The villagers of Xewkija really feel proud that at the end of August they celebrate yet another feast in honour of their Patron Saint, this time his death through beheading.
The Parish of Xewkija, in joint collaboration, with the Philharmonic Precursor Society, and the Xewkija Local Council are doing their utmost to give better significance and image to this feast. Year after year, this feast is gaining popularity amongst all the villagers and even in Gozo.
Nowadays this feast is spread on five days. This year, on Wednesday, the 25th of August, a Prayer Vigil accompanied by a multimedia presentation is to be held on the Church parvis, the subject of which is “From Martyrdom to Glory.” The youths are then entrusted to bring out of its niche the artistic statue of Saint John the Baptist.
One of the oldest traditional attractions with this feast, are the bonfires of St John, known locally as il-hgejjeg ta’ San Gwann. This event which dates back to the days of the Knights of St. John has been put aside for quite a long time. Today with the initiative of the Xewkija Local Council, this event is gaining grounds. The event is heartily welcomed by young and old alike. Late at night, these bonfires, made up of a heap of wood are lighted in the main square in front of the Rotunda. This year this event will take place on Wednesday evening, the 25th.of August.
The day after, the group entrusted with the feast outside decorations, organises an entertaining traditional dinner. A sports festival as well as treasure hunt is scheduled for Friday, the 27th of.August.
Saturday, the 28th.August;
Evening A Holy Mass will also include the Vesper. Later, pony races take place along San Bert Street.
Sunday 29th. August
8.30am., His Lordship Mgr. Nicholas J. Cauchi Bishop Emeritus of Gozo leads a solemn Concelebrated Mass. The orchestra as well as the Vox Clementis choir will participate in the Mass. His Lordship the Bishop will convey a sermon message to the congregation. On this day, in every celebration of the Holy Mass, a sermon is dedicated to the Martyrdom of St John.
The Precursor Band will participate throughout the festivities. This year the march starts at 9.30 a.m. From St. John the Baptist square, the Precursor Band marches down Independence Street, through Soil Street, into St Catherine Street. The march ends in front of the Precursor Philharmonic Society Premises. During this festive march the popular hymn of The Beheading of St. John the Baptist (a musical composition by the late Mro Carmelo Borg, and lyrics of the late Anton Haber), is the definite favourite. Sky fireworks will bring to an end this second feast in honour of our Patron Saint John the Baptist
The organisers said that all visitors to Xewkija will be heartily welcomed.