Kevin Vella: the eternal lover
On this, the sad occasion of his loss, I recall the very day, ten years ago, of Kevin Vella’s marriage to Rita. Then, I had said that God was bidding them to consecrate themselves to one another and by so doing they would also be a clear example to us all of God’s eternal love. Kevin and Rita both took these words very seriously. They did become, in every sense, a true mirror of God’s love, not only for themselves, but for all of us.
And today to thank Kevin for his unconditional love: for a love that consoles and is merciful, a love that is not jealous, not complacent, not haughty; a love that is not self-seeking, not easily angered, and keeps no record of wrongs.
Surely Kevin’s life was a most precious gift to us all, a life which he transformed into a hymn of love, which Our Lord Jesus Christ illustrated in these words: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”. I greatly admired the deep love he cherished for Rita. We always saw them together: they were the eternal lovers. Kevin was always there for Rita as was Rita for Kevin. What a fine example! Thank you Kevin and Rita on behalf of us all.
Kevin was also an inspiration to many others thanks to the contribution he and Rita made in their struggle to ensure a more inclusive and a fairer society for everyone. As a disabled person Kevin believed that it is society that creates real disablement and he wasn’t afraid to raise his voice and remind our society and the Church of their duty to eliminate all those barriers that prevent the full participation of people with disability in all aspects of daily life.
Last June in Vatican City, during the Jubilee for the Sick and Persons with Disabilities, a disabled wheelchair-user named Serna complained to Pope Francis saying she couldn’t go to church because it wasn’t wheelchair accessible.
Immediately the Pope exclaimed that she had identified: “one of the ugliest things among us: discrimination. It’s a very ugly thing. To say that ‘you aren’t like me, you go over there’ or that it’s not possible to receive catechesis because ‘this parish is for those who are the same, and not for those who are different’. This is one of the worst things that can happen.”
So “is this a good parish, or not?” Asked the Pope.
The answer from the hall was a resounding: “NO!”
“What should the parish priest do?” asked Pope Francis.
“Change his ways!”
And this reminds me how, some years ago, Kevin and Rita used to insist that the parish church of Mosta should become, as of right, wheelchair accessible for them and for anyone else who had a mobility impairment. Thanks in no small measure to their unceasing insistence an appropriate access ramp was constructed, so much so that today’s celebration of Kevin’s life is accessible to one and all.
Kevin and Rita’s voices have constantly called out for the elimination of barriers, which are the main obstacles to equal opportunities in both Maltese society and the Church.
They spoke out because, like everyone of us, and In spite of their own impairments, Kevin and Rita were always determined to live life to the full, as is their right. If they wanted to go to the cinema, they went; if they wanted to travel abroad, they went; if they wanted to go to the stadium to watch a football match, off they went; if they wanted to go the Isle of MTV, they’d go. Even when they could no longer board an aircraft, they still found a way to travel, thanks to Fr. Joe Magro who would often drive them wherever they wanted to go.
Once I was fortunate enough to share a beautiful moment with the couple in Brussels, this was when Rita was chosen to be in a calendar commemorating inspirational European women. Every time they found a closed door they would insist on their rights, prudently, but assertively. And, more often than not, they achieved their ends.
What was impressive about Kevin was also the fact that he appreciated the advancement of equal opportunities even when he himself wasn’t going to benefit from the change. For example, he was overjoyed when learnt that, finally, beach wheelchairs were going to be available at Għadira Bay. This in spite of the fact that his deteriorating health prevented him from swimming. But that was Kevin: welcoming any initiative that improved the rights of disabled people. That is why it was such fitting gesture when Maltese society saw fit to invest Kevin and Rita with the honorific: Midalja għall-Qadi tar-Repubblika (Medal for Service to the Republic).
We really do need more disabled people who are not afraid to speak out against any form of discrimination in daily life, whether it is intentional, or not. I feel that Kevin is challenging Maltese disabled people: “Don’t let others speak up on your behalf. Speak for yourself! Safeguard your own disability rights and you WILL make a difference.”
Finally, Kevin even looked upon Death in a positive manner. He insisted that he didn’t want his farewell to be a funeral, but an agapé, a Celebration of Love. Kevin was an optimist, he wanted to see Death as a continuation of a journey in which he could go on enjoying the good things he had struggled so hard to achieve. Today’s festival of remembrance does not mean that we don’t feel deep anguish at the physical loss of a dear friend, but it does mean that we are celebrating the beauty that he typified in his lifetime: his sense of altruism, his sense of justice, as well as his embodiment of the meaning of true love.
As it does with other disabled people, society all too often focuses the image of a ‘wheelchair-bound Kevin ’, but we know that Kevin was far more than that: he was a living example of some one able, not disabled.
So, while we continue to celebrate this Feast of Thanksgiving to God for the love that Kevin shared with us, for all that Kevin meant to us, we implore the Blessed Virgin of the Assumption, to whom Kevin was so devoted, and beseech her to lead him into the embrace of her Son Jesus Christ and into His Celebration of Love, His ever-lasting Agapé in heaven.
Almighty Father, grant him eternal rest.