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A proud tradition of Maltese Catholicism in Australia

By Jordan Grantham, 19 December 2017
Jean de Valette, Grand Master of the Order of Malta, gives thanks to God after victory in the Great Siege. Painting: Levee du Siege de Malte, Lariviere (Public Domain)

The Maltese people are proud Catholics, bearing the noble heritage of their island’s Catholic history – where St Paul the Apostle was shipwrecked and the Knights of Malta saved Christendom from the entire Ottoman Turkish fleet.

The Maltese Chaplaincy in the Diocese of Parramatta is led by Fr Noel Bianco MSSP, out of the La Valette Social Centre, Blacktown.

“The Maltese are passionate about the faith because they have been catechised well,” Fr Noel said.

“I am very proud of the Maltese Community especially in the Parramatta Diocese. I believe that our community would be one of the oldest ethnic communities,” Fr Noel said.

Maltese began immigrating to Australia in the 1870s with an increase after the Second World War. From 1948 onwards, one fifth of the population of Malta departed for countries like Canada, America, England and a great number came to Australia, particularly Sydney and Melbourne.

Almost 100,000 Australians claim Maltese heritage, compared to Malta’s population of 450,000. Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, Greystanes is traditionally one of the Maltese hotspots in Australia.

“Maltese Catholicism is based on a serious catechesis that had been available for the Maltese faithful on a daily basis for the last 110 years. I refer to the excellent work of the Society of Christian Doctrine founded by St George Preca,” Fr Noel said.

“The contribution of this group to Australian Catholicism is enormous, because the Maltese brought this heritage with them. 35% of the catechists that graduated last year for the CCD programme were Maltese,” he said.

“I find that the prayerfulness of the Maltese is exemplary. They are always early for church. Wherever I go here in Sydney and in Melbourne I find Maltese involved in the parish life and give their contribution to the parish.”

The Chaplaincy is based on at the La Valette Social Centre at 175 Walters Road, Blacktown. Fr Paul Baron OFM Cap helped found the centre in the 1970s.

“He got around him a group of Maltese people in a Committee and started to work with him 50 years ago,” Fr Noel said.

The impressive centre comprises a Chapel, presbytery, meeting rooms, hall and popular restaurant and has even been visited by the Maltese President in 2016.

The centre features Sunday and Weekday liturgies in Maltese and English.

Two groups meet regularly in the chaplaincy – the Emanuel Charismatic Maltese Prayer Group and the Neo-Catechumenal Way of Blacktown (Maltese Chaplaincy).

Ongoing activities at the La Valette Social Centre include activities for the elderly and the Maltese Australian Youth Group.

The Chaplaincy celebrates important Feast Days in Maltese culture, including:

  • Feast of St Paul’s arrival in Malta
  • St. George Preca in May
  • St. Peter and St Paul
  • The Assumption
  • Memorial Mass for the Maltese buried at Pinegrove Cemetery on the first Sunday in November

Pillars of the community include Antoinette Caruana, the President of our La Valette Social Centre and her husband Mark. Frank Zammit is also known for his literary skills.

Mark is “very interested in gathering the personal stories of people, so people can contact him to continue the Maltese oral history,” Fr Noel said.

The La Valette Social Centre helps to preserve the living traditions of Maltese Catholicism and knowledge of their incredible history.

Maltese Catholicism

The confluence of unique historical factors led to the importance of Maltese Catholicism in Australia.

During WWII, Malta was the nearest British dominion to Axis Italy and was bombed within hours of Mussolini’s declaration of war on 10 June 1940.

Malta’s membership in the former British Empire led to its heavy bombardment during WWII and the subsequent opportunity of migration to Australia.

Malta’s strategic importance was the reason for being a British Naval base. This strategic importance was a crucial element for the survival of the Christian West during the 1565 Great Siege, when five hundred Knights of Malta and the Maltese held off the entire Ottoman fleet.

The Maltese Catholic community continues its venerable custom of defending and advancing the faith, now in Australia through evanglisation, catechesis and service.

“In any new movement in the church you will find Maltese and they are leaders. Of this I am intensely proud,” Fr Noel said.

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