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Constantinople, Alexandria and Orissa (India)

Information collected by Fr. Paul Gatt OP, mostly taken from the Archive of the Convent of St. Mary of the Cave, Victoria

At a time when many Maltese began to emigrate to places such as Constantinople (now Istanbul) and later to Alexandria and other North African countries, the Dominican Brethren began to feel obliged to assist our brothers spiritually.

In Constantinople, where at one time it is even said that there were 3,000 Maltese, Dominicans were present in the mid-nineteenth century and remained there until the outbreak of the First World War (1914).  There they worked together with the Italian Friars of the Province of Piedmont.  Among the monks who spent some time there are Fr. Antonin Calafato, Fr. Vincent Borg, Fr. Jordan Micallef, who even died there (+1913), Fr. and Fr. Antonin Gatt, Vincenz Schembri and Fra Marjan Baldacchino.  There was also Fr. Manwel Anastasi.  He was later asked by the Master of the Order to become a chaplain among Italian emigrants to North America, where he actually ended his life in 1915.

After the First World War, attempts were made for the Maltese Dominicans to go to Alexandria, a project which, unfortunately, failed for reasons that did not depend on the monks.  In Alexandria, at that time, it is said that there was a colony of about 12,000 Maltese.  It took about two years (1927-1929) for the monks to acquire a place where they could carry out their pastoral work.  The initiative had come from the Master of the Order himself, Fr. Stanislaw Gillet OP.  Two monks were sent to explore the existing possibilities - Fr Bernard Grech and Fr Alfons Spiteri.  During Alexandria, they made many contacts and returned with high hopes.  But the long haul, and the hopes of gaining a place and being able to really start working there, have vanished.  This mission was even the subject of a private audience of the then Provincial Fr. Joseph Xuereb with His Holiness Pope Pius XI (12 May 1929), who, in turn, that he would be happier if the Maltese Dominicans, instead of going to Alexandria to assist the Maltese, where there were already several other priests giving this service, go to the heart of the 'infidels', such as, for example, China.  In all, however, as to where to establish a Mission, the Maltese Dominicans had to abide by what was determined by the Congregation of the Holy See for the Spread of the Faith (information obtained from the Archives of the Convent of Victoria, Giuliana vol 7). , p. 456).

In fact, on April 17, 1938, Easter, Provincial P. Gejt Xerri, with a letter to the Province  The Congregation for the Spreading of the Faith announced that it was assigning Maltese Dominicans territory within India, in the Province of Orissa which was part of the Apostolic Vicariate of Calcutta, where they could open the their mission.  This long-awaited news was greeted with great joy by the Brethren.

The Brothers of the Province who were sent to open this new Mission were: Fr. Grabiel Bezzina Wilkin, Fr. John Dedomenico, Fr. Jordan Scicluna and Fr. Dumink Farrugia.  The same Fr. Gejt Xerri had joined them when he left the Provincial (1939). Fra Ġwann Bonnici had gone with him. On February 6, 1940, two other missionaries left for India: Fr. James Buttigieg and Fr. Bonaventura Aquilina.

This is how the Chronicler of the convent of Rabat described the departure of the first missionaries to India:

On October 3, 1938, the holy day of the solemnity of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus, patron saint of missions, at 9.30 pm, the first Maltese Dominican missionaries, Fr. Grabiel Bezzina Provincial Vicar and superior of the Mission, Fr. John Dedomenico, Fr. Jordan Scicluna and Fr. a large crowd shouted with extraordinary enthusiasm .... A cheerful people greeted and kissed the hands of the new missionaries as they sang the Popular Hymn of St. Dominic 'Kalaroga, Bologna and Malta'.  Students and novices began to sing the Novitiate Hymn several times.  The missionaries, moved, thanked and blessed the people who were shouting, and while embracing their religious brothers for the last time, they fully commended themselves to their prayers.  The next day, October 4, at about 7:30 a.m., our first missionaries set out for the mission lands, led by the Guardian Angels and blessed by Our Lady, St. Dominic, and all the Brothers 'for their luck to be chosen  to work in the missionary field 'apud infideles' (see Archive Convent of Victoria: Giuliana vol 7, pp.764-5).

In fact, this mission, too, did not have a long life.  Between illness and World War II, missionaries had to return to Malta.  The Province had to look for another place to open its Mission.

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