After 17 years working with Maltese missionaries around the globe, Franciscan Father Marcellino Micallef came home to the island of Malta, where he serves as vicar provincial of the St. Paul the Apostle Province in the capital city of Valletta. In response to the growing number of refugees, poor, and the homeless, Father Marcellino and the friars decided to transform their historic monastery’s former refectory into a soup kitchen.
It took three years to obtain the necessary permits for the project, which involved transforming a large, high-ceilinged room built in 1584 into a soup kitchen that meets modern building codes. The friars hope to open Soup Kitchen OFM Valletta by Easter.
The rooms next to the refectory will be turned into a kitchen, storage, bathrooms, laundry, and office. Father Marcellino and volunteers representing the building trades find inspiration in the words of Pope Francis, who said in December 2016: “I encourage you to address your resources to those who ask you for help: Listen to them, hear their story, learn from their experiences, and try to understand their needs.”
Homelessness, once hard to imagine, has increased because of the rising costs of housing. The city also has seen an influx of refugees from Libya, Syria, and other countries. “Our Mediterranean Sea has become the largest cemetery in the world,” he says.
The soup kitchen will also serve “mothers, elderly people, those who have low income, those suffering from mental illness, men who feel like a failure, couples and families going through marital and financial crises, and poor families,” he says. The friars will offer meals to 80 people five days per week.
Guests will also have opportunities for reading, meditation, music, computer classes, and discussion groups. In the near future, Soup Kitchen Valletta OFM will provide training for women in preparing healthy food for their children. The friars also plan to work with the unemployed and partner with the United Nations Refugee Agency to assist immigrants.
“There is no need of another church from where one can talk about the Gospel. People need to see the Gospel,” according to the soup kitchen’s vision statement. Explains Father Marcellino, “They need to meet and touch ‘homeless Jesus’ in their neighbor.”
It is a vision inspired by St. Francis, he says. “Francis was not a person for the people, but he was with the people. The best university in the world—the university of the street!” St. Francis has been a part of Father Marcellino’s life since before he was born. His childhood home was in the shadow of the belfry of the Franciscan church in Rabat, where he served as an altar boy and sang in the choir. The “enthusiasm of the young brothers in the friary” attracted young Marcellino to religious life. Father Marcellino became a Franciscan in 1976.
As he cares for the poor, Father Marcellino himself has been no stranger to hardship. His father died at a young age, leaving his mother to raise nine children. “My mother was an inspiration for me because she had to take all the responsibility for her family alone,” says Father Marcellino. Yet she attended Mass daily and “never gave up on her faith and always trusted in God.”
Her faith continues to inspire Father Marcellino as he carries out the mission of Francis—saint and pope.