Lay Missionaries in Latin America: Part 2

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By Fr John Caruana

Catherine Fleri Soler in Chile

In 1992, Catherine Fleri Soler of Attard, started a missionary experience of two years in the poor periphery of Santiago, Chile. She participated in the programme ahaida entro familiar run by the organization Hogar de Cristo. The aim of this social programme was to help parents improve the environment in their home, hence encouraging their children to stay at home rather than take to the streets and be exposed to various risks.

When Ms Fleri Soler arrived in Chile in 1992, the Pinochet regime had just been deposed and the people were still scared of the police. She had complete faith in God, facing the suffering of the people in the incapamentos osijas which were a type of slums. In Malta, Catherine had followed an evening course in social studies and after graduating from the University of Malta, she started social work in the schools around Cottonera. Through her reading she became fascinated with the Chilean culture, language and music. At 25, Catherine first got in touch with Fr Tony Calleja S.J. while he was in Malta for a break. She was later received in the parish of Fr Eddie Mercieca S.J. who was the director of Hogar de Cristo, a Catholic organisation founded by Fr Alberto Hurtado, who was proclaimed saint in 2005.

As a Jesuit, Fr Eddie had a very strong social conscience. During the 40’s and the 50’s there was a lot of poverty. He noticed many homeless children in the streets and built a shelter for them. He became even more conscious that the Church should help the poor. The State never took such responsibility, it was simply absent. The Centre where Catherine worked targeted 30-35 families in a programme called Aiudad alter familiar. She did home visits, supported families both emotionally and financially and referred them to family workshops. They were taught how to develop personal skills and how to control themselves and their emotions.


Rose Mallia in Peru

A lay missionary who deserves special mention is Rose Mallia, the youngest in a family of eight. She worked as a clerk at the Royal Air Force, and in 1964, she moved to the office of the Attorney General of Malta. In 1968, she became private secretary of the Malta Development Corporation. In 1977, her mother passed away and Rose joined her missionary brother, Fr Gwakkin O. Carm in Peru.

During her 32 years of missionary work, Rose travelled to Peru, Panama, Honduras and has been in Colombia since the year 2000. When she arrived in Arequipa, Peru in 1977, Archbishop Ruis Somocurcio let her study philosophy and theology at the Catholic University.

In 1980, she joined the secular Daughters of Our Sacred Heart of Mary, instituted by Pope Pius XII in 1947. She made perpetual vows in 1990. Peru struck her as a country with a great number of people, many of whom were very poor, scattered over great distances and sleeping on the floor.

At that time, the terrorists known as Sandero Luminoso were very strong, so great prudence was necessary. Once, while travelling on a bus, a tyre burst and the passengers screamed in terror, believing it was a bomb. Yet, against all odds, Ms Mallia persisted in her apostolate.

Together with her Peruvian companions, Rose used to visit the homes and teach catechism to children. There were 30 communities and it took the priest years to reach some of them. Sometimes they used to accompany the bishop, either on foot, on horseback or on a kayuko, a type of a boat which carried not only people but also animals.

Ms Mallia was appointed by the State as director of an institute for problematic children. The majority of the children came from distant Puno or Cuzco, where the parents were so poor that they used to travel to Arequipa and leave them in the streets of the city.

In Lima, Rose built a college for the children of the street hawkers. Today the college still receive students for primary and secondary education and is run by the local people.

Her work in Panama, together with her companions, consisted in visiting village after village, often needing 10 hours on foot to reach them. Although these countries are neighbours, their difficulties differed from one to another. In Colombia she was more concerned with teaching parishioners to visit the sick and educate the youths in the orphanage of their parish. She taught the women to knit and sew and helped them sell their products.

To earn her living, Ms Mallia always looked for a job, like teaching English and translating.

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