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The prison sisters

Sisters of Charity Sr Salvina Bezzina (left), Sr Tarcisia Vella and Sr Adele Baldacchino. Photo: Jason Borg

Sisters of Charity Sr Salvina Bezzina (left), Sr Tarcisia Vella and Sr Adele Baldacchino. Photo: Jason Borg

Curiosity changed the life of an inmate who wanted to see what the prayer meetings organised in prison by nuns were all about, and who got hooked on the teachings of the Bible.

So long as I can move my legs, I won’t abandon these families

“The man used to drink a lot and then get violent... he ended up in jail. Once he came to one of our prayer meetings out of curiosity. And that changed his life,” recounted Sister Adele Baldacchino, who headed the gathering.

“He started reading the Bible and then organised prayer groups for inmates in his own cell, with the permission of the prison authorities. Now he’s out and is a changed man,” she said.

Sr Adele is one of the Sisters of Charity who works with inmates at the Corradino Correctional Facility.

Like other nuns in her community she is following in the footsteps of the late Sister Enrichetta Alfieri, an Italian who spent most of her life working with inmates at the Prison of San Vittore in Milan and was declared Blessed on April 2 by Pope Benedict.

Sr Adele explained how she once worked full-time in prison, even serving as a warder in the women’s division. That was when she learnt about the reality of drug smuggling in jail.

“Drugs make me so angry. They are responsible for destroying lives,” she said as she recalled how she had once found drugs hidden in the sole of a pair of shoes destined for an inmate.

Today Sr Adele works as a volunteer at the prison some four times a week.

Her role is to listen to prisoners’ concerns, provide them with an environment where they can pray and rediscover their faith as well as assist with family problems.

One man, for example, was upset because his partner did not take their children to visit him in jail. The nun spoke to the woman and the situation was resolved.

Sister Salvina Bezzina, the provincial superior of the Sisters of Charity in Malta, said the nuns also carried out outreach work in the community and helped families whose loved ones were in prison.

Sr Anna Tereza Pace explained how she would always start off by speaking to the children who gave her a clear picture of what kind of help the family needed.

She then helped the family by supplying them with important things they might need as well as offering guidance and advice.

“So long as I can move my legs I won’t abandon these families,” the elderly nun said.

The Sisters of Charity’s NGO, the Saint Jeanne Antide Foundation, also helps out in the community. Foundation chief executive Nora Macelli said their aim was to help those who fell through the state’s safety net.

“When a family member is in jail, the relationship dynamics of the family change. Some families have dilemmas as, for example, the mother might not want to tell the children that the father is in prison. We help them deal with such situations,” she said.

The Sisters of Charity operate in 27 countries. In Malta there are about 80 nuns. The numbers have dropped in recent years due to lack of vocations and as most sisters reach retirement age. On September 25, the sisters will be holding a celebratory Mass to mark the beatification of Sr Enrichetta to be held at St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta at 6 p.m.

Mass will be celebrated by Archbishop Paul Cremona. Former students of the Sisters of Charity as well as their relatives and friends are invited to take part in the Mass.

Sr Enrichetta’s beatification was set in motion by a miracle. In February 1994, 18-year-old gymnast Stefania Copelli was dying of abdominal cancer. As she laid in bed, her aunt, a Sister of Charity, sat with her praying and placed a holy picture of Sr Enrichetta on her niece’s abdomen. The young woman got better, the cancer left her body and she is now a mother of two.

For more information about Blessed Enrichetta contact the Sisters of Charity on 2169 4451 or e-mail [email protected].

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