Dr Joseph Micallef Stafrace

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By Fr John Caruana

Dr Joseph Micallef Stafrace and his wife Yvonne, when visiting a favela in Brazil, remained greatly and negatively impressed. His wife Yvonne told him that she would not even tolerate an animal living in these conditions. At the same time, Dr Stafrace writing in the newspaper Lehen is-Sewwa says that, “contrary to what we might think from afar, when one approaches the residents in these favelas, one perceives that the people are educated, are really and truly friendly people, and they love their children.

Above all they are grateful people.” When he and his wife were introduced as Maltese nationals, the residents soon remembered one or other Maltese priest or nun that backed them in their vicissitudes, and insisted on sending their best regards to the priests or religious they knew.

Dr Stafrace learned that not all professional people, like doctors, accepted to work in a favela because of the lack of security which today has become more complicated because of drug trafficking. He recalls that in the Daily Malta Chronicle of 16th April 1912, there was an article about Maltese Emigration to Sao Paulo in Brazil, telling the Maltese to avoid emigrating to that part of the world because of one great drawback, “our people would be thrown with black and half breeds.” Dr Stafrace was shocked with the kind of language that the journal used at that time.

In fact, Maltese emigration to Brazil was not successful. As everybody knows, Dr Stafrace points out, apartheid in Brazil is non-existent! He got to know a lawyer who worked for the Tax Department in Brazil. The lawyer explained to him that his children complained because they saw that the standard of living of other families coming from his professional stratum was better than theirs. With difficulty, the lawyer tried to explain to his family that this happened because their father worked honestly and did not accept bribes.

Dr Stafrace and his wife were shown around by a certain Lilian, who knew Fr John Xerri OP, and was involved in a social movement that struggled against apartheid in South Africa. Visiting Malta, a group of Brazilians met Bishop Nikol Cauchi and were surprised by how well informed Bishop Cauchi was about the Church in Brazil, about the debate that was going on about the Theology of Liberation, that there were priests that were not bothered with the fact that Brazil was under a dictatorship whilst there were others who were humiliated and sent to prison and even tortured! They were pleasantly surprised by how well informed the Bishop was about the Gozitan priests in Brazil and was concerned about one and other priests who left the priesthood and wanted to know how they were faring.

Dr Micallef Stafrace spoke well of the tourist attraction of Brazil mentioning the dominant statue of Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro, the spectacular mountain Pao e Açucar, the never ending bay of Copabacana, the Se’ Cathedral in Sao Paulo, the Iguaçu falls in Parana, the busy port of Santos which reminded him when Petrobras the Brazilian Oil refinery brought its tankers for repairs at the Malta Dry docks!

After this picturesque description, Dr Stafrace wrote that he was impressed by the liturgy, the participation and devotion of the people. He was edified by the three Maltese priests of Osasco, Daniel, John and Xavier who preferred to work as a team, living together in the same house. Dr Stafrace finished his articles in the

Lehen Is-Sewwa by mentioning a layman who spoke very positively of him and Yvonne because this showed that the missionary is backed by his friends and the local church.

Dun Gwann Caruana – johncaruana18@gmail.com

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