Libya: The Franciscan Missionaries of Mary

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By Fr John Caruana

Sr Mary Pace FMM arrived in Libya, Tripoli in 1948 and immediately started working with abandoned children. Sr Mary worked for 20 years in the same house.

In 1968, when the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary started working with the lepers, Sr Mary was transferred to work with the village people, teaching them sewing.

In 1973 Sr Mary spent two years in Swani where the FMM started working in a hospital for disabled children. Sr Mary was the Mistress of the house and kept up a relationship with the neighbourhood, teaching knitting and English. Sr Mary loved life in all its ways. She was available at all times for welcoming all those who came, and had a special respect for priests and a great love for the country.

Sr Catherina Abela FMM was a simple and loving person, busy, respectful, self-forgetful, and a woman of prayer. She preferred to give in than to get involved in an argument. She will be remembered for her loyalty towards authority, her humble spirit and her desire always to do God’s will. Sr Catherina spent over 30 years in Libya where she learnt Arabic and spoke it fluently. She was employed by the Ministry of Social Affairs in Tripoli where she taught crafts, both in prison and in workrooms, like cane work, cushion making, embroidery and knitting. She had been sent to Florence to learn the art of machine knitting in order to teach knitting to women. This kept her on a very busy schedule especially when the finished work was exhibited and when the women organised little parties to celebrate their accomplishments.

Sr Maria Saliba FMM was sent to Libya in January 1948 and ended her mission in 2001. First she was posted to Azizia, a small poor village where the population lived in huts. She visited the locals to see to their health and on other days she used to go to teach them sewing. After 5 years she was transferred to Tripoli where she learnt how to make carpets and then taught the method to poor young girls in order to help them earn their living. She used to teach them sewing and then visited their homes.

In 1969, the year of the revolution, the Nuns’ Schools and all private works were taken over but 12 nuns were employed by the government. They were asked to run Centres to care for young girls who abandoned school. Sr Maria used to teach sewing and knitting to young unmarried mothers, between 14 and 18 years old. Sr Maria served for 17 years. For the last 3 years she was called to Tripoli where the Catholic Church was receiving immigrants and trying to find work for them.

Sr Emanuela Gatt FMM was in charge of the crèche in Tripoli, helping in the linen room of the orphans and generously doing various works in the house. Sr Rose Casapinta FMM dedicated herself to the lepers. It was hard but the lepers loved her and appreciated her work. Back in Malta, she worked at St Luke’s Hospital as a nurse and tutor. Now that she is retired, she is looking after the elderly nuns in Balzan. Sr Giuseppina Casapinta FMM in 1948 worked in the Leprosarium as an occupational therapist for Lepers.

After spending six years in Rome and another year in Padova, Sr Mary Zarb FMM, of Żabbar, moved to Libya, where she remained for twelve years. She used to take care of the house, but her special care were the lepers, assisted also by another six nuns. In her sixth year there the revolution took place and the Libyan nurses who were prepared by the nuns became the administrators of the hospital. In the confusion that followed not everybody was ready for this new situation. A director of a hospital which catered for disabled children called the nuns to help him in his hospital. It had 700 children and Sr Mary was appointed nutritionist. After helping for six years, she moved to Algiers where she has been serving since February 1982.

In Algiers, after receiving professional training, she taught children who were mentally disabled. She worked for eleven years in this institution until four foreigners were killed and the superiors and the bishop decided that they should leave the place because it became extremely dangerous. In fact, sometime after, Bishop P. Claverie was murdered.

Sr Mary was sent to study Theology for one year when she returned to Algiers. Today she works in a parish teaching crafts to the people, visiting the elderly in their houses, helping the poor and receiving those who need to open their heart discussing their family problem. They have a priest nearby who celebrates Mass regularly. Sr Mary considers that they are lucky in this as some nuns live in areas where the nearest priest lives four hundred kilometres away.

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