The Malta Independent 18 October 2021, Monday

Fr Hilary celebrates 80th birthday: the football-crazy priest who was friends with Pele

Neil Camilleri Thursday, 30 October 2014, 12:00 Last update: about 8 years ago

Fr Hilary Tagliaferro turned 80 on Tuesday. He celebrated his birthday with mass at Paceville's Santa Rita chapel and dinner at the nearby Zasha's restaurant in Baystreet. A good number of ex-members of the Augustinian oratory in Tarxien, where Fr Hilary served as a spiritual director for a number of years, attended the event.

The Malta Independent was also in attendance and spoke to Fr Hilary on this special day.

The former sports journalist said he is still very much active, despite reaching the ripe age of 80. "I still swim every day. It keeps me alive. I used to be very involved in football until my mid-sixties but then I turned to swimming. It gives me strength; physically, mentally and spiritually and I start freaking out on days when I cannot find the time to swim."

Fr Hilary still serves as president of the Youth FA. Sport was very much a big part of his life, but would he choose a different path if he could go back in time? "I made a lot of mistakes in life but if I had to be born again I would do things the same. I always enjoyed what I did, even if I faced many problems. I believe that if a person trusts in God and has patience they will find the road and a solution to their problems. Thank God I always found a way."

Fr Hilary was presented with a number of gifts after thanksgiving mass but he says that the reunion was the best gift anyone could have given him. "It is a true gift to be able to see all these persons, who have grown up and have their own families but appreciate all the things we have done together. Our passion for football was what brought us together. I know that some good did come out of the time I spent with them."

The Augustinian fondly recounted his close friendship with Brazilian football legend Pele.

"We were very good friends when I was still a sports journalist and would meet up at every World Cup. We would go out to dinner together. I admire him not only as one of the best footballers the world has ever seen but also as a person. He is a big personality but also a very humble person. I appreciate the fact that he remained a very down to earth person despite the greatness he achieved in football."

Fr Hilary said one cannot compare Pele to other, younger players for the game of football has changed considerably over the years. "I always maintained that Pele was the greatest player ever because of his character and charisma." The priest and the Brazilian footballer lost touch soon after the 1998 France World Cup.

The football-crazy priest also spoke fondly of his other passion - the Millennium Chapel in St Julian's. "The Millennium Chapel is the fruit of my life in sport and the contacts I always had with the boys of the oratory, the Centru Sport Edukattiv,  the MFA's technical centre and football school and the Youth FA's football nurseries. We are currently discussing a twinning agreement between the Millennium Chapel and the Youth FA because we feel that God created man with both a body and a soul and sport helps us stay healthy in body, mind and spirit."

Video Matthew Agius, editing: Paul Jones



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