Emigrants’ Priest and Refugees’ Samaritan

Biography of Mgr Philip Calleja.

Bijografija ta’ Monsinjur Philip Calleja

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

‘Mgr Philip Calleja – A life dedicated to uprooted people’ (Mons Philip CallejaGħex għall-bniedem maqlugħ minn għeruqu) is the title of a 500 page biography being launched on Wednesday 4th December 2019, by the Emigrants’ Commission and Midsea Books, focussing on Mgr Calleja’s 70 years of committed service to Maltese emigrants, asylum seekers in Malta, and the Church.

The biography was written by Charles Buttigieg, a close collaborator of Mgr Calleja for several years, who is also the author of two books about the Archbishop Mgr Joseph Mercieca and another about Archbishop Mgr Michael Gonzi, all published by Midsea Books. The author looks at Mgr Calleja as the priest for Maltese emigrants and a Samaritan for refugees in Malta.

The book in itself also offers the story of the Emigrants’ Commission, born on March 1, 1950, through the initiative of the Catholic Action Movement. It further recounts how Dar l-Emigrant, in Valletta, came into being through the initiative of Mgr Calleja. Speaking on the occasion of the laying of the Foundation Stone of Dar l-Emigrant, on February 10, 1971, Mgr Calleja saw the building as a permanent monument in honour of the Maltese migrant. Then, when the Emigrants’ Commission became Malta’s pioneer in the international protection and humanitarian support of asylum seekers in Malta, Mgr Calleja ensured that Dar l-Emigrant also serves as a beehive of activity for refugees.

“As we can see from this book about his life, Mgr Philip believed fully in what he did and continues to do so and strive to see that the organisation he developed and sustained for so many years continues to move ahead. At the age of 91, he is still giving his contribution with full commitment and zeal,” says Mgr Alfred Vella, his successor as Director of the Emigrants’ Commission, in the Preface of the biography. Mgr Vella adds that Mgr Calleja always had and still has a deep desire to make himself available for those who have to leave their home in search of a new future elsewhere.

The book includes five sections dedicated to the childhood and up-bringing of Mgr Calleja in Valletta; his enormous love and dedication to the Maltese emigrant and his family; his life in the Church; his big Samaritan heart for the refugee; and what Mgr Calleja says about a number of particular persons he worked with throughout his life.

The basic information sources of the biography are Mgr Calleja himself, the Archives of the Emigrants’ Commission and of the Migration Museum housed at Dar l-Emigrant, and the direct personal experiences the author has had over the years in working closely with Mgr Calleja.

Mgr Calleja enjoys various international and local recognitions for his lifelong dedicated work for Maltese migrants and asylum seekers in Malta.

On the 16th March 2010, Dr Stephen Gatt, President of the Federation of Maltese Abroad presented to Mgr Calleja a plaque which states as follows: “In recognition of a life time of service, labour and travail well in excess of the call of duty in the interests of Maltese Migrants across the diaspora.”

Mgr Calleja was also granted a certification by UNHCR ‘in appreciation for years of dedicated service and close collaboration’. The Emigrants’ Commission was UNHCR’s Operational Partner in Malta from 1987 to 2004, when UNHCR’s role in the island had taken a new form in the light of Malta’s Refugees Act.