By Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap
I was overfilled with joy when I recently heard that the beatification process of Monsignor Mikiel Azzopardi, the founder of Dar tal-Providenza, could commence if the diocesan request is accepted by the Vatican. This year Dar tal-Providenza is celebrating its Golden Jubilee.
Dun Mikiel was born in Valletta on 10 February, 1910. In 1934 he was ordained priest at the Mdina Cathedral. He died on 13 May, 1987. Monsignor Azzopardi promoted respect, rights and dignity to people with special needs. Incidentally, these are also the values which Dar tal-Providenza ardently embraces and certainly puts into action thanks to its outstanding care of the residents of the Home. Dun Mikiel’s foresight should inspire us to treasure people with a disability. They are a big blessing and should therefore be treated with utmost love and respect, dignity and inclusivity.
Sometime ago, I was reading the following reflection by my fellow Capuchin brother Archbishop Charles J. Chaput OFM Cap of Philadelphia which really made me more appreciative and thankful to God for the great gift He gave to the Maltese Church and society in the person of Dun Mikiel.”It’s a simple fact: Raising a child with a disability can be difficult. The real choice of accepting or rejecting a child with special needs is … between love and unlove; between courage and cowardice; between trust and fear. That’s the choice in our personal lives. And that’s the choice in our life as society.”
By accepting, loving and giving his life to the service of people with a disability Dun Mikiel opted for love, courage and trust in God’s providential care. In his mind and heart, Jesus’ words regarding God’s abundant providence empowered and materialized his divine calling:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they do not sow and neither do they reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day” (Matt 6:25-34).
By building and looking after people with a disability at Dar tal-Providenza, Monsignor Azzopardi was making us aware that these brothers and sisters can teach us how we must welcome each other, each one with his and her limitations. While it is true that every one of us has his and her God-given gifts it is also equally true that we all have our limitations. I genuinely think that Monsignor Azzopardi’s genius was not only in providing a home for people with a disability who were hidden in cellars and completely abandoned by society but, and especially, he managed to create for them an environment where they could live in solidarity with one another.
Pope Francis once said: “The presence of disabled persons causes all to make a community, in fact, to be a community.” As the director of Dar tal-Providenza Fr Martin Micallef said: “Dun Mikiel Azzopardi fulfilled the mission the Lord entrusted to him” wonderfully.
May Dun Mikiel soon be raised to the honour of the altars by being officially declared Blessed!