By Fr Martin Micallef, Director of Id-Dar tal-Providenza
During the course of his pastoral work, back in the first half of the 20th Century, Dun Mikiel Azzopardi, then Ecclesiatical Assistant of the Malta Catholic Movement, realised that various persons with disabilities in Malta were living in a deplorable state.
The situation was so bad that some were even hidden in cellars in totally appalling conditions. Collective shame kept them so well hidden that in certain cases even their own siblings didn’t know of their existence. ‘The handicapped’, as they were known in those days, were often ridiculed in public or incarcerated in an old people’s home or the mental hospital.
While recognising the need to help disabled people themselves, Dun Mikiel also felt that various families with a disabled member were also in urgent need to find people who could offer them solace. It was then that the idea started to germinate within him to find a place where severely disabled people could find the right environment where to live – an environment that respected their dignity, an environment that they deserved.
It was 50 years ago on Sunday 12 Septermber 1965, when Dun Mikiel at the end of his popular Redifussion programme called: Is-Siegħa tal-Morda (The Hour for the Sick) decided to share with his listeners his idea of building the first residential home in Malta for person with disabilities. He asked his listeners to pray so that, if it were God’s will, this project would become a reality. Incidentally, the theme of his talk that day was: “Divine Providence”.
Soon after the broadcast of the Redifussion programme a generous lady, whom Dun Mikiel knew, went to wait for him in Triq il-Miratur, Floriana where he used to live. She had to wait for more than two hours for his return and when he eventually arrived she gave him an envelope which contained a hundred Maltese liri, a tidy sum in those days. The woman had been saving it up to go on a trip abroad. This lady wanted to be the person to make the first donation towards the completion of this project. The only condition she made was for her name to be kept anonymous. In fact it was only during her funeral that somebody, who somehow knew about her gesture, revealed her identity. She was Agnes Coleiro from Qormi, a pharmacist who used to run Lion’s Pharmacy in Floriana. Her sister was the late Bishop Mgr Annetto Depasquale’s mother.
Dun Mikiel always considered the generous act of this woman as “the hour of Divine Providence” and decided that the day of 12 September, 1965 should be remembered as id-Dar tal-Providenza’s Foundation Day. He used to say that since then he could experience first-hand the miracle of the multiplication of the five loaves and two fishes. In fact up to this day, the Dar tal-Providenza he founded remains a living manifestation of the miracle of Divine Providence.
In the years that followed, id-Dar tal-Providenza developed into a residential complex/organisation committed to empowering persons with disabilities in a family-like environment. Its aim is to enhance and maximise individual abilities with a view to ensuring disabled residents’ full participation in society. Id-Dar tal-Providenza’s mission has always been to provide individualised, long term and respite residential services to persons with disabilities in full respect of their rights and dignity. It has also strived to promote the holistic personal development and social inclusion of service users, including their autonomy and self-determination.
Today. as we look back at the past 50 years of service id-Dar tal-Providenza has offered to persons with disabilities and their families, we feel duty-bound to thank God because, through this project, the Church in Malta has been a living witness of His all-embracing, inclusive love.
For me personally, Id-Dar tal-Providenza remains another living example of the human face of the Church. We are also very grateful to the Maltese people who have always believed in our cause and supported our work whole-heartedly throughout the years. The special love and generosity of the people towards id-Dar tal-Providenza has always made me feel proud to be Maltese.
“Respect, Dignity and Rights” is the theme chosen to mark our 50th anniversary. May these values continue to inspire us as we look forward towards many more years of service to benefit those vulnerable individuals in need of our support and encouragement.
Over the past 50 years, Id-Dar tal-Providenza has established itself very much as “the people’s Home” and as such we would like you all to join and celebrate our joint contribution to its success. To this end I would like to take this opportunity to invite you all to attend a Thanksgiving Mass which is to be held at St John’s Co-Cathedral on Friday 18th September, 2015 at 6.30pm, and which will be presided over by His Grace Mgr. Charles J. Scicluna, Archbishop of Malta.