Devotees will for the first time be able to celebrate the feast of Divine Mercy on March 31 in a church specifically dedicated to the Divine Mercy - the new church in San Pawl tat-Tarġa.

The feast is celebrated in 90 churches in Malta and Gozo on the Sunday after Easter.

Canon Michael Agius, who is in charge of the church project, said yesterday that work on it is now in the finishing stages after its newly constructed shell was blessed in 2003.

Last September Archbishop Paul Cremona gave him a brief to form the San Pawl tat-Tarġa/Birguma community and finish the church, which will also be a national sanctuary for the Divine Mercy. The church complex also includes a parish centre.

The church had previously been the responsibility of the former parish priest Fr Salvinu Micallef but, after the shell was constructed, work on it stopped when Fr Micallef was moved to Kalkara five years ago.

The community counts 1,000 families and the new church can seat up to 500 people. Currently, the community is making use of two chapels, that of San Pawl tat-Tarġa, which can take up to 100 people and that of Sta Maria tax-Xagħra, which can take up to 40 people.

"At this stage, the feast of the Divine Mercy can be celebrated here for the first time," Canon Agius said. The Mass, on March 31 at 11.15 a.m., will also be the first to be held in the church.

Then, on April 2, there will be Mass followed by Adoration for national devotees of the Divine Mercy from 10.30 a.m.

Canon Agius said that since he took the work in hand six months ago, much has been done including the plumbing, electricity, plastering, gypsum, ventilation, CCTV, fire alarm and public address system. Lights are arriving from abroad on Tuesday and will be installed on Wednesday.

Although quite a bit still needs to be done, Canon Agius is hoping that the church will be completely finished by the end of the year. The cost of the whole project runs into several hundred thousand euros. All Church art has been approved by the Curia's Commission of Sacred Art and a change of plan for the façade is being submitted to the Malta Environment and Planning Authority for ratification shortly.

Artist Austin Camilleri is in charge of the façade and portal while the titular painting and interior decor is in the hands of artist Luciano Micallef, who lives in the community. Joe Cachia was responsible for the building design.

Donations for the church are being received at Bank of Valletta account 40016339848.

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