Sunday, 9 January 2011
Festival in Malta
What a joy and delight to share some of the Christmas Festival and the New Year Celebration with new friends in Malta. Hospitality has to be one of the key words every time we think about this visit. We were met at the airport by Doug (the Minister at St. Andrew's) and Lesley and Paul who were kind enough to keep an eye on flight times and therefore be on time - unlike the planes! And then we were welcomed at a boutique hotel by Luciano in the heart of Valletta and to the sound of the bells of St. John's Cathedral.
We were invited to meet with the President, George Abela - you can find photos of that meeting on his website! - and with Archbishop Paul Cremona. Both the conversations were about politics and the faith, and were stimulating and thought provoking in turn. It was good to be able to help the President understand a little more about the tradition of "Nine Lessons and Carols" for his next Christmas celebration.
Later that day we had the privilege of sharing with the English language class at the Marsa Refugee Open Centre. Dot was doing most of the teaching, but we were able to have some conversation with most of the students, some of whom had been in the centre for 3 years or more.
The Watchnight Service was not as well attended as last year, partly because many of the Nigerians, for whom this is a very special event, had been repatriated. But it was good to be part of the celebration filling the streets on that night, and to walk back to our rooms still listening to the carols and songs broadcast at every corner. There is a real sense of the 12 Days of Christmas on the island.
We were also able to spend some time exploring other parts of Malta - Mdina, Rabat, Mtarfa, Mosta, Bugibba, Qawra, Ta'Qali amongst others - and exploration in a very different sense of Malta's history, with especial reference to World War 2.
After an informal and moving Covenant Service, designed to be both Methodist and Church of Scotland, we spent a while with the women of the Dar Tereza Spinelli refuge which is thriving in part because of the help the St Andrew's Church is able to offer. And then on to one of the many festive meals we shared.
Frank and Sarah were kind enough to host our visit the next day to Hal Far where we explored both the Married Quarters and the Tent Village, and were able to have further conversation with Ernest, an elder at St. Andrew's who still lives in that refugee centre. he does what work is available to him there and ministers to as many of his fellow refugees as will allow him. New developments here are being supported both by the members of St. Andrew's and by the South East District to which Malta belongs.
This final picture of a typical street in the capital is my prayer reminder -
for the people who live here
for the people of St. Andrew's
for the refugees and those seeking Asylum Status
for the people who were so kind to us
for those in authority, especially President and Archbishop
and for all who are seeking to serve God in new ways as Malta, a Roman Catholic community, faces the secularisation which is affecting every culture in today's world.