Church origins and missions in Libya (3)

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By Fr John Caruana

The Franciscans Minor (OFM)

The Franciscans Minor from Malta (Ta` Ġieżu) had always felt the need to help the Church in this country. When the presence of the Italians diminished and other countries were called to help, Fr Gabriel Micallef, and Bishop Sylvester Magro together with others, were the first to give their help in Tripoli and Benghazi.

In this Muslim context, the Christian message has a stronger meaning. Together with other Churches present in Libya – the Orthodox, the Coptic and the Protestants, the Franciscans organise meetings to establish relationships of dialogue and respect with their Muslim friends.

The church in Libya has three characteristics – that of presence, that of dialogue and that of service. It is a church that is a sacrament and a sign which demands humility and love.


The female religious orders

Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (DSH).

An Orphanage in a Muslim country. It was in August 1968 that General Gwakkina Muscat and Madre Vicar Benjamina Polidano accompanied Archbishop Michael Gonzi to Libya to see an orphanage that the Libyan Minister of Labour had offered. In the same year, sister Ermelina Mifsud and Sr Dionisia Borg opened an orphanage in a Muslim country. In December they were joined by other nuns. They cared with evangelical zeal for 170 orphans. The authorities were continuously asking for more Maltese nuns. The nuns also gave Catechism lessons to Italian children.

Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM)

In September 1924, former barracks given by the Italian government served as a temporary convent and home for the works. The first nuns settled in by the end of 1925 and others came from Tunisia. A dispensary was opened in 1928 for the Libyans and this gave more opportunities for contacts. In 1968, the nuns were asked to take care of lepers at Bir Lista Milad. In 1969, with the revolution of Colonel Gaddafi, the English and Americans were expelled but the nuns decided to remain as social workers. They were in charge of opening formation Centres. In 1973 they were urgently requested to work in a government hospital for mentally disabled children. [To be continued…]

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