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Lourdes Chapel and Dar Guzeppa Debono

The Lourdes Chapel  |  Lourdes Home
 

The Chapel
It was on the 11th February 1858, when the Immaculate Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous in the Grotto of Massabielle in Lourdes, France for the first time. Eighteen apparitions took place in all and Lourdes soon became a center of pilgrimage and prayers. It was Christianity's foremost pilgrim site.

The harbour is dominated by a gothic church that fits Mgarr hill like a royal crown but whose existence may be owed to a mundane traveller. In 1879, it is said, some visitor pointed out that the rocks of the hill were similar to the Grotto of Massabielle in Lourdes. Only 21 years had passed since young Bernardette was honoured with visions of Our Lady. So the pious Ghajnsilmizi could not take such a remark lightly. A statue of Our Lady of Lourdes soon appeared in the rocks.


The statue of Our Lady of Lourdes n the rocks


The church itself was finished nine years later. Soon after World War II ended, an artistic marble altar was added to the imposing Lourdes Church, whose parvis commands splendid views of the harbour.

The chapel of our Lady of Lourdes, built on a hill used to be known 'tal-Qortin' overlooking Mgarr harbour. This was built in the year 1888. The work was finished by the Maltese architect Caruana Galizia on a Gothic style. This is a place of pilgrimage for people from all over the island, especially in the days coinciding with the 'visions of Our lady of Lourdes' in southern France. The benefactor of the statue was Carolina Mamo and the artist was Carlo Darmanin.

On 25 May 1879 the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was put in her place and blessed on 3rd June 1883 by Bishop Pietru Pace. Works on this chapel were finished on 6 February 1892 and a year later, in 27th August 1893 it was blessed by bishop Giovanni M. Camilleri. The feast is celebrated on 11th February (the date of the first apparition). People from all over Gozo flock to the chapel and many return on all eighteen apparitions to pray and to hear mass.

Lourdes Home (Dar Guzeppa Debono)
The rocks of Mgarr may or may not resemble those of Lourdes, but the message is the same. For faith and love reside next door at Lourdes Home, a matching building. This is an orphanage run by the Dominican sisters and brought to fruition by an exceptional lady, Guzeppa Debono. This dedicated woman was born in 1883, the year Our Lady made another earthly visit, this time  ta' Pinu in Gozo. Spurning marriage in favour of the needy, Guzeppa became the mama of several more children than she could have mothered biologically. A list of the home's supporting visitors include ex-President Censu Tabone, himself a Gozitan, and Britain's Prince Charles.

Unfortuantly, allegations of physical abuse on children at Lourdes Home in Ghajnsielem started to surface in 1999. Three years later that the media picked up on reports made by individual victims. Initial investigations proved inconclusive, but shortly after assuming office in 2006, Gozo Bishop Mgr Mario Grech commissioned a second enquiry, which took two years to complete. The resulting report was issued March 2008 and confirmed the allegations of abuse. Mgr Grech immediately made the findings public, apologised for the scandal and asked forgiveness from the victims. The Church commission found evidence of physical and psychological abuse, including beatings with belts and children forced to eat vomit as punishment, which occurred during the 1970s and 1980s.

The ministry of Social Policy immediately intervened and a few weeks later, all children were relocated to Malta even though this proved a psychological nightmare for the same children. The future of Dar Guzeppa Debono is now unknown. Some have suggested that this place should be turned into an elderly home while others are insisting that considering there are no other children's orphanages in Gozo, Lourdes Home should not close but should be left in the hands of by trained social workers.
 

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