In the coming Thursdays, the Augustinian friars will be celebrating the devotional Thursdays in preparation for the feast of Saint Rita practically in all their churches around Malta. The devotion of the fifteen Thursdays is linked to the fact that Saint Rita carried the thorn of in her forehead for fifteen years, after praying the Lord Jesus to share with him in the suffering that he suffered for us. Over the years, so many people have resorted to the intercession of Saint Rita with their difficulties and eagerly asked her to take their prayer before the Lord.

Saint Rita was an Augustinian nun who lived in central Italy more than 600 years ago. Along her life, she was a married woman, a mother of two sons, became a widow, and later joined the contemplative nuns in Cascia. These different stages of life, together with the challenges she experienced, make her a popular saint practically all over the Catholic world.

The Augustinian friars in many cities around the world have spread the devotion to this saint and presented her as a model of hope in so many difficulties that life brings about. It is customary that so many faitful resort to Augustinain churches on these Thursdays leading up to the feast of St. Rita, where special prayers are said with the intercession of the Saint of the Impossible.

The Feast of St. Rita in Valletta and Victoria Gozo, which are the main centers of devotion to the Saint on the islands, will be celebrated on the liturgical day, being the 22nd of May. Other Augustinian churches will celebrate it on other days close to that date.

The traditional feast of St. Anthony the Abbot was celebrated on Sunday, January 16, at St. Mark's Church in Rabat. Although the circumstances of the pandemic did not allow celebrations to be held outside the Church, at the end of the mass, the Prior Provincial Father Leslie Gatt O.S.A. blessed the domestic pets in the church itself. This is an ancient tradition closely associated to this feast held in the Augustinian church of Rabat. It has been customary for the grandmaster of the Order of Saint John to send his horses to be blessed on the feast of St. Anthony. This sweet tradition has been maintained over the years and various animals are normally brought to be blessed.

The figure of St. Anthony the Abbot is closely linked to the Augustinian tradition. St. Anton's life had inspired St. Augustine at a very important moment in his life, as he himself recounts in the 8th book of his Confessions just before narrating his conversion. Though the Order of Saint Augustine was eventually erected many years later and in a different context, the Augustinian friars also has an eremitic origin, and devotion to St. Anthony was very common in their churches. The cult of this saint in St. Mark's Conventual Church in Rabat dates back several centuries. In 1806 an artistic wooden statue was also made by the sculptor Xandru Farrugia.

On Monday January 17, the liturgical feast day of Saint Anthony, the Prior Provincial than presided on the feast of Saint Anthony in the Chapel dedicated to the Saint in Xagħra Gozo.

We are once again celebrating Christmas with all that such an event brings with it. With so many experiences which have been added to our ‘baggage’ along ane other year that has flown by us. We had thought it might be a year which will lead us back to normality, but we're pretty much still in the midst of the pandemic that has changed the structure of so many initiatives and customs we held. It is also an experience that still challenges us to reflect on new ways by which we can go about things.

Among the discussions that have taken prominence on the media locally in recent days, there was the discussion about the tradition of the procession with the statue of baby Jesus in our streets. They were discussions that confronted our values ​​and practices as Christians, with culture, with the political vision set forth in public institutions,  health restrictions, and so many other elements. Each aspect plays its part not only in the way things could be done, but more so in the perception that each one of us builds of the argument and the ongoing public discussion.

Beyond all this - which in a few days will pass like many other topics - I would like to propose a question that I deem important to accompany us along these days: Will Jesus be carried in our hearts? Of course, it's much easier to look on from the balcony or from the sidewalk, and see the sweet little statue being carried on the sholders along the streets. It’s often even easier to invest our energies in the logistics and organisation of various initiatives rather than to seriously challenge ourselves. But in reality, what would Christmas be like if Jesus does not come into our hearts?

We all know that in order for baby Jesus to came to our hearts, we need to make room for him. We need to be able to make the first step, and see what we can clean our hearts from: perhaps with a little humility; compassion; forgiveness; a better order of our priorities; reconciliation with my own weaknesses and those of others; the rediscovery of the fundamental values ​​I embrace. St. Augustine repeatedly refers to the experience of God that dwells in our hearts: “Go back to your heart and see what you think of God. Because it is there that you find the image of God." ( Jo. Eu. Tr. 18,10) Let us do our utmost to welcome Jesus into our hearts and commit ourselves to take him from heart to heart. This is the greatest gift we can give each other. The presence of tiny baby Jesus will surely bring a lot of serenity and peace wherever we are!

This is my wish for all of us my dear brethren and friends, especially those close to our communities and initiatives. The coming year will bring to us Augustinian Friars a Provincial Chapter which I pray, will be a moment of renewal. Let us make it our prayer, that while Jesus comes he instills in us the desire to work genuinely for the renewal of communion among us. May Jesus come into the hearts of our young people and instill in them the courage to answer to his call. May Jesus accompany us in every step and choice we make. May Jesus be amongst us, as we share our faith within every community and within every reality where we Augustinians are present. May baby Jesus roam from heart to heart!

Allow me to end this message by conveying my best wishes and those of my brethren to all those who are part of our projects and realities or close to us in one way or another. One particular thought goes to your and our family members and friends who are sick. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, for your presence and continued support. Wishing  you and your families serenity and peace of heart this Christmas and the coming year.

Fr Leslie Gatt osa

Prior Provincial

On Sunday, January 16, Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna celebrated the Eucharist at St. Martin's Church with the Baħrija community. The Archbishop inaugurated and blessed two new bas-reliefs that were installed in the Church just a few days ago.

The bas-reliefs, work of the brave artist Jennings Falzon, were placed one on each side of the altar and symbolize the Eucharist and the Deaconia. That of the Eucharist was in fact placed exactly on the entrance to the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. The other, symbolizing the diakonia was placed on the entrance leading to the sacristy and is particularly linked to the christian value of reaching out to the needy, particularly linked to Saint Martin.

The Augustinians, particularly the Rabat Community, have been serving the Church of St. Martin in Baħrija for the last seven years.

On Monday, 13th December, the Augustinian friars met at the Monastery of the Augustinian Sisters of Contemplative Life in Valletta for a moment of prayer and reflection during Advent. The meeting began with the prayer of the Psalms and after Fr. Mark Sultana shared with the friars some reflections on our inner desire for the Lord in the personal and particular circumstances of each one at this time of Advent.

After a moment of personal reflection, the Augustinian friars gathered in the Church for a moment of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. For this moment, the new Assistant General Fr. Javier Perez Barba was also here with us. He is in Malta for a few days to know more the reality of the Augustinian Family in Malta.

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