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Maltese help Albanian families stricken by floods

Container full of necessities distributed on Christmas Day

Mgr Frendo and some of his congregation

Mgr Frendo and some of his congregation

Twenty years ago, Alfred Cassar headed to Albania in a van loaded with basic necessities, including blankets and stationery supplies.

Archbishop of the Tirana-Durres diocese Mgr Ġorġ FrendoArchbishop of the Tirana-Durres diocese Mgr Ġorġ Frendo

In 1997, he was answering an appeal from his uncles, Dominican brothers the late Fr Ġwann Frendo OP and Mgr Ġorġ Frendo OP.

The two had just started missionary work in Albania after a call from Pope John Paul II to religious orders to support those who had suffered the most cruel and anti-religious form of communism, said Mgr Frendo, who went on to become the Metropolitan Archbishop of the Tirana-Durres diocese.

Since his appointment as Archbishop, Mgr Frendo has also changed some things around. Among others, on Christmas Day he does not invite politicians over for lunch, but instead eats with poor families.

His nephew’s first visit in 1997 marked Mr Cassar for life, and he has returned several times since.

This Christmas, Mr Cassar travelled with a container full of items donated by the Maltese for struggling Albanian families whose houses were destroyed by heavy flooding in December.

Joe CassarJoe Cassar

Albanian families are still struggling, and for the missionaries, education remains a priority. They often fund the studies of promising children and also help to cover the bills for some patients’ medical needs.

Mr Cassar recalls being amazed at how people who were so poor could be so cheerful and welcoming. Despite below-zero temperatures, they lived in houses that were often made of wood and plastic, lacking basic necessities such as flooring and a toilet. He noted that over the past two decades, poverty has persisted, with the cost of living increasing but salaries remaining low.

Although he had made no plans to go there in 2017, Mr Cassar returned to Albania in December following an activity held in memory of Jerome Frendo, a young Maltese who died aged 20 after three bouts with cancer.

Items were collected in aid of Albanian families. A container was filled with carpets, blankets, clothes and hundreds of bags of basic necessities to be distributed by Mgr Frendo on Christmas Day.

“It was amazing that people who were so poor could be so cheerful and welcoming.”“It was amazing that people who were so poor could be so cheerful and welcoming.”
He stared at it and shook it, as he thought it was a toy. He had never seen sweets in his life

This time, Mr Cassar headed to Albania with his sceptical brother, Joe, among others.

“I don’t want to give the impression that I went to Albania with some big missionary commitment or did some work that left me breathless,” Joe Cassar said.

“We spent three days in all there and had good food and a comfortable bed. But they were three days where I experienced the beauty of volunteering and supporting people who live so close to us but are still reeling from the catastrophic effects of extreme Communism.”

He recalled heart-rending instances when in rural towns, children crowded around a box of Twistees or a stack of colouring books brought from Malta.

Alfred CassarAlfred Cassar

“I still remember a five-year-old who was handed a small packet of Love Hearts. He first stared at it and then shook it, as he thought it was a toy. He had never seen sweets in his life.”

The short experience, in which he witnessed people scrambling to rebuild their houses, torn down by the floods, rid Joe Cassar of all his scepticism.

He admits that he was mainly convinced to go to Albania by his partner, Marica Mizzi, who had travelled there 17 years before when she was an active member of the Kerygma Movement.

That year’s Kerygma volleyball marathon was held in aid of people in Durres, where the two Dominicans had started their missionary work.

The experience shook her, and she has since learnt to appreciate life more.

When in December she heard that Alfred Cassar needed help, she decided to give a different meaning to her Christmas. And following the visit, the children’s gratitude and Mgr Frendo’s energy inspired her to volunteer more of her time in Albania in the near future.

“Through it all, you keep wanting to support them better, and you actually feel that you haven’t done much. But I kept Albanian Mother Teresa’s words in mind: ‘If you can’t feed one hundred people, then feed just one,’ ” she told this newspaper.

If you wish to donate, please make a deposit to the HSBC account opened for the purpose: 089-015135-050 (IBAN: MT09MMEB44897000000089 015135050).

Alfred Cassar may be contacted on 7906 7016.

Marica Mizzi: The missionaries often fund the studies of promising children.Marica Mizzi: The missionaries often fund the studies of promising children.
This Christmas, a container filled with donations went to struggling Albanian families whose houses had been destroyed by heavy flooding.This Christmas, a container filled with donations went to struggling Albanian families whose houses had been destroyed by heavy flooding.
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