The Malta Independent 21 May 2022, Saturday

The kappillan and the pandemic

Noel Grima Thursday, 6 January 2022, 15:33 Last update: about 5 months ago

‘Dwal mill-kantini’. Author: Joe Camilleri. Publisher: Horizons / 2021. Pages: 223pp

The village parish priest (kappillan) had entered his mission with the best of intentions. Then Covid arrived and all he had learned and prepared was swept overboard.

Anxious like everyone else he obeyed dutifully the orders of the health authorities but at the same time he was sensitive to the sufferings of many of his flock - some had lost jobs, many were finding it difficult to cope with daily life, especially those with debts or loans to repay.

When the direst months of the pandemic had passed, human nature raised its head again. The villagers wanted to prepare for the coming festas. They urged the kappillan to start fund-raising so that the village is prepared.

The kappillan tried to head them off. What about organising groups to offer help to those in need, he asked, not forgetting the children of the village whose education had been disrupted by the pandemic. The villagers heard but did not volunteer.

Then the very Maltese fixation with the titular saint took over. The first suggestion was to hold a procession, albeit a votive one. That was vetoed by the health authorities. Next they suggested bringing the statue out of the niche and putting it next to the main altar.

The kappillan could not get out of that. On this basis the suggestion was made to dress up the church as for the festa and hold all indoor celebrations. Again, this carried the day.

But inexplicably this was where things turned ugly. A whispering campaign targeted the hapless kappillan who was accused of tampering with the Church funds for purposes not thought of by the donors.

That was when ugly anonymous letters started arriving.

Not having succeeded in organising relief for parishioners affected by the pandemic and seeing the leading lights of the parish still fixated on the festa and the titular saint, and even realising that the person nearest to him, the Vici, was more aligned with the festa aficionados, the kappillan gives up and moves to a parish in Peru whose poor he can help.

This is a terrible indictment of the village mentality and, for those who know what's going on, is not far from what happened in many close-knit parish communities across Malta and Gozo.

This is not the first book of short stories by the author and in fact a previous collection had been reviewed on these pages. This collection is centred more or less on the pandemic and maybe its tone is darker than usual.

The title of this book derives from some mostly old villages in our country where houses have a basement underneath and where light from the kantina shows there are people living where one would not imagine.

The first short story tells of what happens when a Covid-infected person is picked up from home prior to hospitalisation and death.

The rest of the stories - there are 15 in all - deal with, among others, various aspects of the pandemic as it hit our country, from the isolation and loneliness of the vulnerable elderly, to how the pandemic affected a nation passing through various processes of change, marriages breaking up, family homes becoming empty relics of a past age, the pandemic as it affects people with incipient dementia and people whose lives had already been ruined by the politico-religious feuds of the past. 


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