21/ 11/ 15

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from The Times of Malta, 28 October 2015, by Sarah Carabott

Sister Valerie Borg’s career started in Marsa, took her to a forsaken village in Mauritania and then to a Jerusalem hospital where a nun coughed out her dentures in ‘no man’s land’, necessitating a ceasefire.

The incident that earned the hospital its reputation happened in 1954, when a nun coughed out her false teeth on the border between Jordan and Israel.

A ceasefire – the only one between 1948 and 1967 – was called for an hour while an Israeli, a Jordanian and a UN officer retrieved the dentures.

Today, the St Louis hospital hosts four Maltese nuns, and the story of three of them and other Maltese nuns, priests and laymen in the Holy Land has been documented in a new book called L-Art tal-Kliem.

Sr Valerie, from Msida, completed her studies in Sliema and started working with the Malta Cold Stores, a family business. After completing her novice years in Marseilles and nursing studies in Liverpool, she was sent to Mauritania, where she re-mained for 18 years.

Nowadays she sleeps and wakes in Jerusalem and her only contact outside the city walls is through the Times of Malta online portal and her sibling’s phone calls.

The book featuring Sr Valerie is the brainchild of Malta’s Ambassador to Israel, Simon Pullicino. When first posted to Tel Aviv, he met Maltese living in the area, including Sr Antonia from Sliema, the eldest member of the Maltese community there.

The cloistered nun had been stationed at the same convent in Nazareth since 1945, when she was just 25. She asked Mr Pullicino to renew her passport, which she said she was probably going to use for the last time.

Following this meeting and subsequent visits to other Maltese people there, the ambassador realised that the community was dwindling and that their legacy would be lost unless their lives were documented.

He discussed the idea of a book on the Maltese diaspora in the Holy Land with his counterpart in Ramallah, Mark Pace, and the two kicked off the project. Sponsored by the Foreign Affairs Ministry, APS Bank and Merlin Publishers, the 214-page large hardback is the work of author Clare Azzopardi, sociologist Nathalie Grima and photographer Gilbert Calleja. 

Sister Patricia Crockford, whose age remains a mystery throughout her curious account, is another one of these “true ambassadors of Malta”, as Mr Pullicino describes the protagonists.

Brought up in Dingli Street, Sliema, Sr Patricia “was and still is a free spirit”. Her ‘gang’ of years ago was made up of some 25 young people who went to dances at Villa Attard or at the Phoenicia Hotel.

One day she told her mum she was going to Marseilles, stopping at Lourdes and travelling to the UK. However, she left out a tiny detail: she was going to Marseilles with the nuns of St Joseph.

She actually stayed on in the French city, from which she sent over 50 letters to her friends to let them know she would not return to Malta.

She was posted to Israel before the Six-Day War in 1967. Despite the war in Jerusalem, she decided to stay on and became the first full-time music lecturer at the University of Bethlehem.

In the book, she recounts the ordeals of several conflicts, from the Gulf War to the Second Intifada, the Palestinian uprising between 2000 and 2005.

“It’s not the first time I saw soldiers beating up children and I approached them asking them what they’re doing. They would point a gun at my face and tell me to get out of the way if I didn’t want to get it... that was the First Intifada. In the Second Intifada… they punished Bethlehem like no town was punished,” she says.

It was during this second uprising that she learnt all the names of the several army tanks.

Today, she works with refugees, and her aim is to help bring peace.

(photos: Gilbert Calleja)

“This is my aim: to be with the Muslims, to be with the Christians, to be with the Jews to try to make peace. There is no gain by doing violence.”

Merlin's Recommendations
L-Art tal-Kliem
  • Gilbert Calleja, 
  • Nathalie Grima, 
Publisher : Merlin
€ 40.00

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