The Malta Independent 10 December 2022, Saturday
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I am a Second World War child but I never saw so many people sleeping outside as today – Fr Hilary

Albert Galea Sunday, 13 November 2022, 09:00 Last update: about 26 days ago

 

Some 300 people are currently homeless and sleeping in the rough, a number which parish priest and well-known champion of those in need, Fr Hilary Tagliaferro, says is beyond anything he, as a child of the Second World War, remembers.

Fr Hilary, who turned 88 late last month, sat down with The Malta Independent on Sunday to speak about the Millennium Chapel – which he founded – the services which it offers to those in need and the situation today.

“I wish I still had the same energy,” he says when it is pointed out that he still seems to have the same energy to continue with his work even now.

“Today when I hear the problems of others and the poverty which has increased tremendously especially in the last five years, I feel down… depressed that I cannot help. I wish I can do more. We do what we can here, but our best efforts and what we give is not enough,” he says.

He said that this is the situation all over the world, not just in Malta, and he noted that while this is no consolation, it at least serves to show that people aren’t alone.

Fr Hilary says that people come to the Millennium Chapel for assistance for a variety of reasons, but particularly due to various addictions such as drugs, gambling, alcohol and pornography: “They come here crying and we try to listen to them.”

He said that the chapel offers support groups for various addictions which meet regularly in the Meditation Garden or at the complex, and they also offer monthly food bags worth €50 each to around 200 people.

The chapel, located at the edge of entertainment mecca Paceville, is open to anyone between 9am and 11pm every day and aims to offer something of an oasis of peace to those who need it.

Fr Hilary said that he was glad that the recently announced Budget contained provisions to help those really in need and those that are on the margins of society, but noted that the current situation is “an effect of the capitalist society we are living in”.

“We have to live with it and we have to do our best to help people who are in the margins of society to cope with everyday life,” he said.

Asked whether the significant rise in inflation over recent months has led to an increase in people coming to the Millennium Chapel for assistance, Fr Hilary replies: “Definitely.”

“Practically every day someone who is homeless comes here for help,” he says.

He says that there are currently around 300 people who are homeless and are forced to sleep outside every night.

“I am a child of the Second World War but I never remember seeing so many people sleeping outside in my life as today,” he says.

“It was only recently that this phenomenon has been noticed. There must be something wrong in society. There is some injustice going on,” he continues.

Fr Hilary notes that we are currently living in an affluent society and that the general public is doing well, pointing to high occupancy of restaurants and hotels as an example. He adds however that there are a few people, in proportion, who are struggling and says that there should be concern for them because they are part of humanity as well.

“We should be worried – even as a Christian country – that we have people who are suffering daily,” he says.

The interview itself was later interrupted briefly by a phone call which Fr Hilary received from someone who, while not homeless, was in need of assistance. “Come tomorrow morning,” the priest replied to her.

“I don’t like people who say it’s their fault. No, it’s not their fault. Sometimes it’s not – people sometimes are lucky, yes some work to live a better life, but it’s not easy. You have to work hard and every personality is different from the other, so we should be concerned when we have even a small number of people who are not living well,” he said.

Fr Hilary also points out that there is an increase in mental health issues in young people too, especially when drugs are involved.

“I would like to see young people truly believe that God exists, that God loves them and to try and to live an honest and good life,” he adds.

Asked whether he feels that society ignores these people in need, Fr Hilary however disagrees.

“I think deep down the Maltese are very generous and they don’t like that there is this poverty around them,” he says.

“Sometimes, however, people don’t believe that there are so many who are living like this because they don’t meet them as we do. The majority of these people in need are ashamed to show that they are living as they are or suffering. They come here discreetly to speak about their problems,” he says.

However, he is firm in his belief that the Maltese are “generous, kind and compassionate”.

Asked what he feels needs to be done to help those in need, Fr Hilary says that while recent government assistance is welcome, he would like to see more social workers engaged in order to help people individually and give them the direction needed.

 

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