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Malta Day-UK
8th September 2001

St. Sebastian of Wokingham Brass Band on stage at the Cathedral Hall

Since its foundation back in 1998 the Maltese Culture Movement aimed to rekindle here in the UK the traditions and cultures that we were so used to back in our little islands of Malta and Gozo.  So we started celebrating our national festivities such as Karnival with the fancy costumes, Easter with the figolli, Imnarja with the fenkata, and so on.  The festivities got bigger and better and functions were now being organised regularly and in a more central location.  But there was always that something missing, something that needed to crown these activities. It seems like we needed something to be able to show off so to speak, a focal point to give us our identity within the many other communities that exist in this country.

 

 
It was not until Dr George Bonello Du Puis was appointed as our High Commissioner in 1999 that our cultural needs started to be taken seriously. He attended each and every one of our functions and always applauded the concept of celebrating our heritage.

So one can imagine how excited we felt when he took on board the concept of a Malta Day-UK!

This grand activity had been in the planning since August 2000 when the High Commissioner called a meeting of representatives of Maltese Community groups in the UK to explore together the feasibility of holding a national day for the Maltese migrants in this country. The idea was enthusiastically welcomed as for many a year it was felt that an event should be organised to bring as many Maltese people together as possible. At the same time it also emerged that the Maltese Culture Movement were about to become the proud owners of a new statue of Il-Bambina purposely made and generously donated by the benefactress Dame Connie Vella. The feast of Our Lady of Victories was proposed as the most suitable day to hold the event. And so Saturday the 8th September 2001 was fixed as the day to celebrate. An organising committee was formed here in the UK, which also appointed a co-ordinator in Malta. Throughout the year the group of organisers both here and from Malta met frequently at the High Commission to plan for this major Maltese event. The event had to be big and extravagant enough to the extent that was never seen before here in England, so as to attract as many Maltese as possible, yet it had to be practical and affordable.

This event was to become the highlight of the whole year 2001 both for the Maltese Culture Movement and the rest of the Maltese Community in the United Kingdom. The months went by and more ideas were created and conceived. With such a major venture in the planning some scepticism is bound to creep in. But the sheer determination and enthusiasm of the organising committee kept the whole project on track. A lot of work and preparations were needed in order to bring the occasion to happen according to plans. The day was designed to the last detail. And lo and behold, what a day it was!

On the morning of September 8, 2001 a brass band was heard playing by the entrance door of

 
 
 
 

Bambina Statue being carried out of the Cathedral

 
 

Procession assembled at Westminster Cathedral Square

 

Procession in the streets of Westminster, London

Westminster Cathedral Hall where a crowd had already gathered to wait for the opening of the MARKET FAIR at ten o’clock. The external surroundings of the Cathedral were decorated with Maltese flags and Malta Day banners which heralded the coming of the Maltese into Central London. The Malta High Commissioner officially opened the Fair and the people rushed inside the hall. Never before were so many Maltese seen together in that vicinity. To their utter amazement they found the hall full of market stalls with many kinds of categories of Maltese products for sale, just like fuq il-Monti in Malta on Sundays and village feast days. As the day went on the multitude grew bigger and bigger, all yearning for a taste of Malta with traditional food, drink, crafts, promotional information, literature, and many sorts of indoor leisure activities that made the hall look like a Maltese market place. Everything they needed to buy was there. The brass band continued entertaining the crowd with Maltese marches composed by the prolific and well-known Maestro Archibald Mizzi who kindly supplied the musical scores. A town crier (Il-bandu) announced the proceedings of the day and welcomed the dignitaries who came to join in the fun and to give their support to the Maltese. This went on until early afternoon.

At half past two the people gathered inside Westminster Cathedral for the celebration of HOLY MASS concelebrated by fifteen Maltese clergy and presided by the Right Reverend Annetto Depasquale, the Vicar General, who came from Malta for the occasion. Again, the number of Maltese was astounding. They filled the cathedral to capacity in demonstration of their support and willingness to acknowledge their Christian faith. They were presented with a decorative booklet containing the Order of Service. The new statue of Our Lady of Victories (IL-BAMBINA) was placed in the cathedral to be blessed. To everyone’s disbelief, many people crowded around the statue and lighted it up with hundreds of votive candles before the ceremony began. A Maltese choir from Sacro Cuor Church in Sliema travelled to London and led the singing under the conductor Anthony Perry. The soloist singers were Mary Rose Mallia and Renato who formed a duet during the singing of Gounod’s Ave Maria.

The church service began with a procession into the cathedral with groups of members of associations connected with Malta. Among these were the Knights Hospitalliers of the Order of St John of Jerusalem (Knights of Malta), and the George Cross Island Associations. Following them were several Maltese who brought their own village banners including the new Malta Day-UK banner with the printed ensign of Malta and the words Faith and Heritage on it. The clergy and Maltese Altar Servers proceeded to give a start to a Holy Mass in honour of Our Lady of Victories on the feast of her birth. The statue was blessed together with other souvenirs and memorabilia of the Malta Day-UK, amidst the joy and singing of Maltese hymns by the congregation. Both the High Commissioner and the bishop addressed the congregation with words of appreciation for their acceptance to the invitation to celebrate the Malta national day and to uphold the Maltese traditions in faith and solidarity among us Maltese. In attendance were also the dignitaries Honourable John Macgregor, Director of Wider Europe Command, representing the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Malta, the Honourable Doctor Joe Borg MP, LL.D.

The statue of IL-BAMBINA was led out of the cathedral into the outside square amid a noisy welcome of people’s applause, brass band music and firecrackers that were heard far and wide around the city of Victoria in central London. A fanfare with bugles was played to salute the statue. A poem by our national poet Dun Karm dedicated to the Bambina was read by the Maltese celebrity John Suda, while the brass band hailed Our Lady with the Lourdes song of Ave Maria to the singing of the people. A PROCESSION was then conducted through the streets of Westminster towards the chapel of the Franciscan Sisters in St George’s Drive. This was a scene of disbelief to many passers by. The statue, the band, the bishop and clergy, the knights of Malta, characters in Maltese costumes, flags, banners and the crowd of a thousand Maltese who followed the statue walked through the streets and halted the ongoing traffic, which would normally claim the right of way in that urban region. The tunes of the St Sabastion Brass Band under its conductor Maestro Bruce Gentry, gave life and energy to the procession whose numbers increased by even onlookers as we proceeded to our destination. Those who followed the statue were given a specially compiled key ring to hold the memory of their participation.

Upon reaching the nuns’ chapel, the High Commissioner concluded with a speech of thanksgiving to all those present for their steadfastness in bringing a scene of Malta into central London. In conclusion to the religious celebration of the day, the clergy and people sang the Salve Regina in Latin and the brass band once more played the hymn of the Ave Maria to Our Lady. The bishop then blessed the crowd and after the playing of the Maltese national anthem the participants dispersed joyfully.

 

Mezzo Soprano Miss Sophia Grech

 
 

Renato and Mary Rose Mallia

 

 

John Suda and Majsi

 

The evening welcomed a renewed crowd of Maltese at the Royal National Hotel in Russell Square for a GALA EXTRAVAGANZA DINNER AND DANCE in the Galleon Suite. A succulent four-course dinner was served while live music was played on the stage.
 
The Extravaganza kicked off with the mezzo soprano, Sophia Grech with the tune of Habenera from Carmen after which Mary Rose Mallia and Renato delivered a Variety Performance. The other guest performers from Malta, John Suda and il-Majsi produced a number of humorous sketches to entertain the audience. Mr Francis Ripard was the overall stage manager who brought his production experience to us and ensured a smooth performance throughout the evening. A lottery was drawn and the major prizes of trips to Malta with hotel accommodation cheered up the winners with delight.
 
The climax and highlight came when the desserts were served from the kitchen with sparklers of bright light that topped up the sweet. The guests had the opportunity of going to the dance floor and sweated out their energies right up to the end. Like everything else in life, the day came to its conclusion, but the people were greatly moved by its overwhelming success. Alas another millstone in the history of the Maltese migrant was made!

We offer our heartfelt thanks to everyone who participated at the first MALTA DAY-UK, and in a singular way to our most distinguished High Commissioner for his thorough commitment to the event which only took off because he established himself among us as a good supporter to our cause as people who aim to uphold our Maltese traditions and culture. Thank you everyone indeed!