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CONVENTION 2000 - Part Six

The sixth (final) day of the Convention was Tuesday 1st February, at the Emigrants’ Commission, Castille Place, Valletta.

Sixth Session - The Maltese Migrant and Religion:

The topics were:

  • Regular contact with Maltese Priests
  • To what extent do emigrants practise religion?
  • Are other religions taking over?
  • Difficulties and demands

The Keynote speaker was Monsignor Philip Calleja, Director of the Emigrants’ Commission.

Other delegate speakers were: 

Fr Tarcisio Micallef MSSP - Australia
Fr Mark Demanuele MSSP - Canada
Fr Victor Camilleri OFM - U.K.
Fr Julian Cassar - U.S.A.

Mgr Philip Calleja reminisced on a Malta Day celebration in Australia at which he was present in 1968. A large multitude of Maltese migrants hailed the child Mother of God (IL-BAMBINA) on 8th September during a replica national feast of Malta. The Maltese in Egypt celebrated a similar event on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. He reflected on the many Maltese religious and diocesan priests and missionary nuns who immigrated to every place where the Maltese migrants were settled. Altogether these numbered around two thousand, many of whom were given the Emigrants’ Commission compliments and gratitude for their enthusiasm and hard work in rendering their pastoral services among the Maltese migrants. He also paid thanks to the bishops who received the Maltese clergy and allowed them to carry over to their countries the religious traditions of Malta.

 

While the past looked very encouraging, Mgr Calleja pondered on the worries he harboured about the future. Modern global materialism has become an obstacle to the preservation of moral sentiments. It is regretful, he said, that the Maltese tend to follow the trend of liberalism that they encounter in the country of settlement. This is evident in the practice of divorces, separations, mixed marriages, abortions, use of drugs. At one time emigration to Great Britain was considered as a temporary move only, hence young men and women travelled alone to that country, where they were subsequently lured into accepting and adopting the practices that were carried out.

As to the future, one must anticipate that the membership sought by Malta into the European Union will certainly continue to urge many Maltese to move away from their heritage and become imbued by the new environment where they choose to go.

Fr Tarcisio Micallef MSSP related some facts on the spiritual care to Maltese migrants in Australia. Records show that as early as 1916 efforts were made to send some priests from Malta to that continent where migrant workers had settled. The Missionary Society of Saint Paul sent the first clergymen to start the mission. It was a journey into the unknown. They even experienced loneliness, homesickness and culture shock. In particular, they were immersed in an environment that was not religiously influenced like the catholic Malta they had emigrated from. With the passing of years many Maltese migrants alienated themselves from their traditions and moved towards other forms of religious cults, while others ceased to participate altogether in any religion. The task of the missionaries was progressively becoming tougher and harder to manage. The gap between parents and children widened to an extent that it became utterly obvious that the younger generation would not fully adopt the traditions of their parents.

In spite of all this, however, the multitude of Maltese who immigrated to Australia made absolute endeavours, with great success, to maintain and repeat the religious customs they took with them from the towns and villages of Malta and Gozo. With the encouragement and support of their priests, many groups of Maltese migrants organised themselves with enthusiasm to keep alive the folklore of their native country. A parish-like tradition of choosing a patron saint for each village was also assumed. The role of the migrant chaplain is also extended to meet to social and welfare needs of the people rather than merely limiting his work to spiritual care only. Fr Micallef concluded by saying that for the Maltese migrant religion is just one aspect of everyday life, and generally this is not the main concern of those whose original aim to leave their native country was to achieve a lucrative way of life abroad.

 

Rev Mark Demanuele MSSP took over as a Maltese chaplain in Canada over the previous year. He paid tribute to those who worked before him in the parish of St Paul in Toronto, and expressed his thanks for being welcomed by the Maltese community. He also acknowledged the continuity of pastoral services rendered to the Maltese migrants by the Franciscans since 1951. They had been involved in the building of a church with the fervent support of the Maltese people. Since 1999 the parish was passed over to the care of the Missionary Society of St Paul. Fr Demanuele observed that the parish in Canada was very active with the participation of many Maltese parishioners who have kept their faith alive. He felt that the young generation of adolescents were conscious of their environment, and they conduct themselves in a good sense of spirituality. This is in spite of a decrease of formal religious practice. Through the contemporary social issues that they are concerned about, such as world poverty, homelessness and unemployment, they express their faith in God by promoting social justice and equality in their own environment.

Among the older generation the picture is more decisive in that some are lapsed Catholics while many others have kept their faith the way they inherited it since their childhood. Their connection with the Church is very close and their religious practice is quite regular. They also support their parish and take pride in celebrating the church feast in a Maltese style with traditional functions, foods, street processions and Maltese brass bands. Of course, the practice of the Maltese language during these events greatly enhances the uniqueness of the occasion, which is primarily organised in a friendly and patriotic atmosphere.

In looking at the future Fr Demanuele contemplated on the present modern Maltese community who are moving into a continuously evolving world, which embraces technology as its way forward. Dwelling merely on the past and placing emphasis on tradition without adjusting to modern values can only widen the gap between the young and old. In religious terms, he very well put the cliché that the future is in the hands of God. He ended by urging everyone to show the flexibility to grow, merge and develop our spirituality in accordance with "the signs of the times". The voice of the young of today is the norm of tomorrow’s world.

Fr Victor Camilleri OFM exposed his thoughts on the situation in the United Kingdom based on the objectives to:

  • Examine the role of religion for the Maltese migrant historically and today
  • Look at the changing culture into which migrants are faced to adopt, and
  • Determine future trends with regard to the role of religion to migrants and their offspring.

The principle of individuality suggests that we should acknowledge that not everyone is the same, or that they should be the same in every aspect. There is culture in individuals according to their environmental conditions. Morals also form part of their culture and upbringing, and this includes their religious beliefs. Similar to the concept of DNA in genetic terms, every person is attributed with a faculty to think, understand, accept or reject what is portrayed to him from outside his own person. Here the term "Religious DNA" may be applied. The religious beliefs of the Maltese population were mainly Christian and every child was affiliated to the Catholic Church in Malta. The adoption of the Faith became part of Maltese culture, which was also carried overseas by the Maltese migrant who settled abroad in search of a better livelihood.

Departing from Culture: With the passing of years abroad as immigrants in countries where the Christian Faith is not practised regularly, or where schools do not include teaching of Christianity in their curriculum, the inevitable result is that the religious aspect of culture will not remain a priority in the day-to-day family life. In some cases religion will cease to remain regarded as an element of culture, although the individual still retains deep religious sentiments. The lack of religious practice reduces seriously the sense of morality in any person.

Religious Practice: In the country that welcomed them the Maltese migrants found themselves alongside other foreign settlers of diverse culture, colour and creed. One common factor among all these was a desire to gain a lucrative standard of living. Inevitably religion occupies second place in their minds. In view of this situation it would be highly optimistic to expect that everyone should comply with the fulfilment of his or her religious obligations and practices. In a multi-faith society such as London and other immigrant-populated parts of the United Kingdom, different ethnic groups of different faiths express their acts of worship to their Supreme Being in their own way and in different venues.

Mosques for Islamic worship, Jewish synagogues, Buddhist temples and Christian churches are often erected next to each other inside the inner cities. Many Anglican churches are being taken over by Islamic worshippers and, it may seem, Christian worshippers are becoming a minority as other faiths continue to spread nation-wide. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the Maltese immigrants in the United Kingdom are not seen as regular practising faithful and do not attend regularly at church functions, although a good number of people practise their faith on special occasions such as Christmas, Easter, weddings, feast days, and special family occasions.

The Maltese Chaplaincy (London and Other Areas): The presence of a Maltese clergyman among the migrants in the UK was officially set up with the advent of the well-remembered Franciscan friar Father Dominic Coppola OFM who accompanied groups of Maltese seasonal employees in food producing companies. The higher numbers of migrants from Malta necessitated a proper plan for organised spiritual care and support for them to ensure the continuity of religious practice among these immigrants. A Maltese Chaplaincy in London was recognised by the Diocese of Westminster. Besides London, however, there are other Maltese communities settled in many parts of the United Kingdom including Cardiff, Southampton, Portsmouth, Manchester, Buckinghamshire, Kent, Essex and other counties of England. It is quite difficult to reach out to all of these from a London based venue unless they agree to travel to London and attend the religious and cultural activities that are organised regularly by Maltese associations in London.

The Migrant in the 21st Century: It is envisaged that, when in due course Malta acquires membership of the European Community, many Maltese people will proceed to the United Kingdom by virtue of their right to commute to other European member countries to seek employment outside Malta. This should provide a great opportunity to increase the number of priests who could participate in giving support to Maltese immigrants in places where concentrations of them exist. It should also be borne in mind that, as the religious and political climate of the western countries promises freedom of expression and change of morality in our society, the likelihood is that religious practice and upholding the faith and traditions of the Maltese homeland are in danger of fading away from the mind of the migrant. The families who will in the future decide to establish new residence in any European country cannot be guaranteed religious provisions or facilities for their children. The schools curriculum no longer includes Christian-based teaching. Fr Camilleri urged that action must be taken by both Church and Government in Malta to preserve and bolster the traditional faith and heritage among those who leave the Maltese shores.

 

Rev Julian Cassar was the last delegate speaker of the Convention. A tasteful end was much needed to maintain the enthusiasm that brought many people together from many parts of the world. He related facts from his twenty years experience in New York. Branded as the "melting pot of the world", the U.S.A. holds a conglomeration of nationalities, ethnic groups and people of various religious backgrounds, with Roman Catholics being in the majority. It could be regarded as an advantage to the Maltese migrants as they spread out widely in several states. Fr Cassar noted that wherever he officiated in that vast continent, there is always a Maltese among the congregation who is still committed to the Maltese heritage, whether religious, social, historical or patriotic. Such feeling is felt mainly at home where Maltese food is cooked regularly, and news from Malta is keenly received through the media or the Internet. Many practise their faith by going to church daily.

Family members seek the Maltese priest for baptisms, weddings, funerals and anniversaries. There is a club in Astoria where the Maltese meet for social, recreational and religious activities. Jesuit clergy also offer services, while educational programmes to teach the Maltese language also take place. Generally all Maltese appear to follow religious norms, and for teenagers religion is a personal relationship with divinity rather than a weekly church ritual in which they grew up as children. Inasmuch as they do not wish to lose the heritage drawn from their parents, they object to churchmen’s beliefs imposed on them. Fr Cassar ended by comparing the Maltese in the USA with those in Australia or Canada where there is more concentration of families residing closely together. His parishioners are scattered widely and are integrated into their local parishes. Nevertheless, they feel utterly pleased when they meet at their Club in Astoria from time to time to interact, relax and socialise among themselves while acquiring a taste of Malta.

A Plenary Discussion with questions from the delegates was held in an attempt to bring the Convention to a close, albeit that there was much more to be done by the authorities and community leaders in the future. During the weeklong Convention a number of delegates sat together to prepare a series of Recommendations to be formally adopted by the Convention as an undertaking to move forward once the delegates dispersed and returned to their immigrant countries abroad. A full list of these Recommendations is given at the end of this report.

The above-mentioned Recommendations require a group of members to implement them and report on their progress. Therefore, an International Federation of Maltese Abroad was formed and the following office bearers were elected to take part in future discussions: Dr Stephen Gatt (Australia), Mr Milo Vassallo (Canada), Dr Carmen Dalli (New Zealand), Mr Bernard Scerri (U.K.),Mr Ivan Magri-Overend (North Africa and Maltese from Eygpt) and Mr Frank Asphar (U.S.A.).

The conclusion of the Convention was highlighted by the presence of the Prime Minister the Hon. Edward Fenech Adami who presented a certificate to each delegate who participated at the Convention. This was followed by a closing address delivered by the same Prime Minister, in which he referred to the Convention as an important event for all the Maltese around the world. He announced that in the Maltese Parliament a new law was unanimously passed by all MPs, which entitles the children of Maltese born abroad to acquire Maltese citizenship while retaining their own citizenship of birth. Furthermore, all those who had previously lost Maltese nationality can re-acquire citizenship of Malta.

A concluding statement by the Chairman of the Convention, Mr George N. Busuttil was the final collective act of the Convention. He affirmed that the work of the Convention is a serious base for the final development of migrant issues and will serve as a bridge for the future. One practical method for maintaining communication and co-operation, he said, is by setting up a web site for the Convention and other events that can be shared internationally among the Maltese migrants. He thanked the Maltese Government and UNDP who sponsored the Convention, as well as all participants who contributed to its success.

Then the Maltese National Anthem was sung and the delegates dispersed.

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