Umbrellas bobbed liked flotsam on a dreary Rome morning yesterday as 5,000 Maltese sheltered under a great ocean of colour in St Peter's Square to witness the canonisation of Malta's first saint.
The incessant rain may have soaked the pilgrims inside the Vatican's main square, but it did little to dampen their determination to be there - even if a significant number darted for cover under the comforting outstretched arms of its immense colonnades.
"A friend of Jesus" was how Pope Benedict XVI paid tribute to St Gorg Preca, who founded the Society for Christian Doctrine (MUSEUM).
The Pope said Dun Gorg was "a priest totally dedicated to evangelisation: Through his preaching, through his writings, through the spiritual guidance and administration of the sacraments and, above all, by setting a living example". And he appealed to him to always be, in Malta and in the world, "a faithful echo of the word of God".
He also said a word or two in Maltese, for the Maltese, who ensured throughout the ceremony that the smallest nation had the biggest voice: "St Gorg Preca is the first canonised son of your sweet land. He is your second father of faith after the apostle St Paul. He always prays for you, so that you can be close to the gospel. St Gorg Preca, pray for us!"
From the moment the Pope emerged under a white umbrella at 10 a.m., it was clear that the unrelenting elements would not spare anybody - as VIPs, cardinals, bishops and priests were forced to spend the entire two-hour ceremony with their own umbrellas over their heads.
The celebration began with the Pope summoning assistance for the task ahead of him from all the saints, as 162 of them in statue-form towered above him from the colonnades and images of the four new ones - Dun Gorg, Charles of St Andrew from the Netherlands, Simone of Lipnica from Poland and Sister Marie Eugenie of Jesus from France - looked on from their place on the façade of the magnificent basilica behind.
Cardinal Saravia Martins, the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints who was standing with the four postulators behind him, then asked the Pope to canonise the new saints.
One by one - the first was a sample of Dun Gorg's blood in a glass tube held by the parish priest of St Cajetan in Hamrun, Fr Paul Fenech - relics from all four saints were carried to a podium on the main altar and placed on a bed of red velvet. They were venerated and Mass continued, before the postulators - who have been responsible for promoting the causes of the new saints - took turns to ascend the six steps and walk to the papal throne.
Rome-based Mgr Charles Scicluna, the postulator for Dun Gorg's cause, received a particularly warm and long greeting from the Pope, whom he has worked with at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The two clearly know each other well.
Towards the end of the Mass there was also a special moment for Eric Catania - the little boy dressed in white whose unexplained recovery led to Dun Gorg's canonisation - as he received his first Holy Communion and a reassuring pat from the man dressed in white, with his parents and younger sister by his side.
And throughout there were cheers, if not for the weather then for the occasion which an estimated 40,000 - a number limited only by the rain though from as far afield as the Philippines - had come to watch.
The Pope, who was joined on the altar by Archbishop Paul Cremona, did not ignore them, as he addressed the crowd in eight languages to ensure no one was left out.
"I extend cordial greetings to all the... pilgrims here today on this feast of the Most Holy Trinity, especially those who have come to Rome in such great numbers from Malta... to be present for today's canonisation. May these new saints accompany you with their prayers and inspire you by the example of their holy lives. And may God Bless you all."
Heads of state from four countries, including Malta, were present for the event.
Dun Gorg, who died at the age of 82 in 1962, embarked on the road to sainthood when a civil servant, Charles Zammit Endrich, claimed his detached retina was inexplicably healed after he placed a shoelace belonging to the priest under his pillow.
In 1975, Archbishop Michael Gonzi issued the decree starting the process for his canonisation. Dun Gorg was declared venerable on June 28, 1999 and beatified by Pope John Paul II in Malta on May 9, 2001.
The second miraculous cure required for his canonisation took place in July, 2001, when a baby boy, Eric Catania, inexplicably recovered from a severe liver condition after doctors in London said he required a transplant in order to live. It was declared as a miracle by Pope Benedict on February 22 of this year.
A thanksgiving Mass led by Mgr Cremona will be held at St Peter's Basilica at 10 a.m. this morning. Since it is indoors, umbrellas will no longer be necessary.