Homily delivered by Fr Martin Micallef, Director of Id-Dar tal-Providenza, during funeral mass for Debbie Schembri at the chapel of the Addolorata Cemetery
If I’m not mistaken, the first time I met Debbie was when in my second year at the seminary I went to Dar tal-Providenza to volunteer for a day and I met her at the administration office where she used to work at that time. The second time I saw her was during the mass on the granaries in Floriana during Pope John Paul II’s visit to Malta. That day, together with her parents she went up with the ciborium filled with hosts during the offertory. Some years ago, I managed to get a copy of the photos of this unique occasion from the Vatican photo archives and I made a copy that Debbie appreciated so much. Who would have told me that years later I would get to know her from so much closer!
Today, her son, her father, her sister, relatives, colleagues and friends, are all shocked with Debbie’s passing away so suddenly, although lately her health wasn’t as good as it should have been. Life is full of mysteries, full of surprises sometimes good, sometimes bad, difficult as that which we’re going through today. But in the quietness of this difficult moment, the Lord will come amongst us as he did when he appeared to the apostles scared from the Jews, completely lost with the death of this Jesus and he tells them: “Peace be with you”. Have courage my friends you can see that I rose again from the dead. Don’t you remember what I told you when I had the last supper with you: “A little while and you shall not see me and again a little while and you shall see me.” (John 16:16). Here I am amongst you, risen from the dead. When I go to prepare for you a place to stay, I will come back and take you with me so that where I am, you will be too.
Let us during this difficult moment, strengthen our faith in the resurrection from the dead. Jesus told Lazarus’ sister Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes Lord,” she replied, “I believe”. Let us today respond to Jesus with the same Yes Lord, we believe that Debbie, who in our eyes is dead, has today arrived in her last destination with you in heaven for ever. It is this faith in the resurrection that in a difficult moment like this we can feel the Lord drying our tears and changing them into tears of joy and hope.
Apart from this difficult moment being a time when the Lord helps us renew our faith in the resurrection from the dead, it is at the same time an opportune moment to thank the Lord for giving us persons like Debbie that inspire us.
Debbie inspired everyone with her huge determination. The determination to live, to study, to work, to enjoy life, to fight for her rights and those of others, the determination to become a mother. Obstacles in determining her own life she found many, but Debbie was a fighter. She never gave up fighting against the negative attitudes of society, unfortunately still prevalent today, towards persons with disabilities. This verse from the Book of Proverbs cannot describe her better: “Who can find a woman of worth? Far beyond jewels is her value.” (Prov 31,10).
Debbie was a woman who appreciated the commitment of those in her life who were supportive of her so that she could move on. So that we don’t leave anyone out, we mention Dun Mikiel Azzopardi, about whom she always said that he used to believe in her. In one of her speeches she had said: “Dun Mikiel used to believe that we persons with disability deserve all that every human person deserves; it deserves respect and dignity, equal opportunities to have a better quality of life, a voice to be heard and a contribution that persons with disability can give to the good of the society we live in.” Today, Debbie thanks all those in her life who respected her like that, all those who meant a lot to her. The list is rather long. Allow me to mention Sr Victoria who cared for her when she was young.
Today, persons with disability have lost a voice. I urge persons with disability to follow Debbie’s example and be not afraid to make their voice heard, not afraid to fight against discrimination, many times very subtle, that they meet every day. Changes in people’s negative attitudes towards persons with disability will only happen if we do not remain silent, if we create more awareness about the rights of persons with disability and anything that creates obstacles for them to participate fully in society like everyone else.
In scripture, God shows how precious we are in his eyes, We are all created in his image and likeness, (Gen 1,27). We are equal in his eyes. Debbie was precious in God’s eyes like every person conceived in the womb. As we read in the First Book of Samuel, Chapter 16 verse 7 God does not consider our appearances or our height… The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearances, but the Lord looks at the heart.
Thank you Lord for Debbie, for all that you taught us through her, receive her now in your loving arms in heaven.
Debbie, may you rest in peace.
This post is also available in: Maltese