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Mgr Hugh O'Flaherty and Fr Egidio Galea

Mgr Hugh O'Flaherty, an Irish priest, is without any doubt, one of the greatest heroes of World War II.

Born in Cahirciveen, Co Kerry, on February 28, 1898, Hugh O'Flaherty was ordained in Rome on December 20, 1925. After his ordination, he served with the Vatican's diplomatic service in Egypt, Haiti, Santo Domingo and Czechoslovakia. He returned to the Vatican shortly before World War II. During the war, Mgr O'Flaherty ran a network which helped Jews and Allied pilots escape Nazi persecution. He is estimated to have saved about 4,000 people.

One of the more interesting stories is Mgr O'Flaherty's relationship with Colonel Herbert Kappler, head of the Rome Gestapo. Kappler made numerous attempts to arrest Mgr O'Flaherty who narrowly escaped capture on several occasions. In June, 1944, as the Allied armies approached Rome, Kappler asked Mgr O'Flaherty to help his family flee Rome. Surprisingly, Mgr O'Flaherty helped Kappler's family escape.

After the war, Kappler was sentenced to life imprisonment. Mgr O'Flaherty visited him regularly - the only one to do so. In 1959, Colonel Kappler became a Catholic and was baptised by Mgr O'Flaherty.

Mgr O'Flaherty's exploits earned him the nickname "the Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican" and his story is told in the film The Scarlet and the Black, released in 1983, in which the late Gregory Peck interpreted his part. Mgr O'Flaherty died on October 30, 1963, in Ireland, where he had been living for his last years after suffering a stroke. He is buried behind the Daniel O'Connell Memorial Church in Cahirciveen.

The Maltese Augustinian Fr Egidio Galea, who died on January 3 this year, worked with Mgr O'Flaherty.

Born in Vittoriosa in 1918, Egidio studied at the Dockyard School at Senglea and later at the Boys' Secondary School in Valletta.

He entered the Augustinian Order in 1933, and after studying philosophy was sent to Rome in 1937 to study theology at the Gregorian University. It was here that Fr Galea met Mgr O'Flaherty, who needed help to rescue those who sought his assistance at the Vatican. Fr Galea was one of these helpers, and became one of the closest aides of Mgr O'Flaherty.

After the liberation, Mgr O'Flaherty was honoured by many countries and so was Fr Galea, who was made an MBE.

Fr Galea returned to Malta in 1945 and taught Holy Scripture to Augustinian seminarians. He spent six years in Tunisia as a missionary, between 1955 and 1961 and during this period, he also taught Latin to Tunisian students. He served as Augustinian Provincial for four years, between 1967 and 1971 and as a lecturer in the Augustinian Institute between 1984 and 1990. He published several articles and books throughout the years, mainly on St Augustine, his works and the Augustinian order.

He died at the age of 86.

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