Dar Frate Jacoba in Marsascala welcomes youths encountering social difficulties while praising God as it practises permaculture. William Azzopardi is enthralled by the simple, rustic surroundings of the Franciscan home that is opening its doors to the public this weekend.
A centre in Marsascala, set up by the Youth Alive Foundation, embraces Franciscan ideals while focusing on three main functions – welcoming youths encountering social difficulties, practising permaculture and giving praise to God in word and in deed.
Dar Frate Jacoba is named after a noble lady who helped St Francis until his death. It is innovative in the sense that it is run by a Franciscan monk, Fr Ray Scicluna, OFM, together with an open community of lay people to offer a family atmosphere to young people coming from difficult social backgrounds.
It also embraces strict rules of respect for nature and sustainability, making it a shining example for other Church institutions and civil society.
The concept of Mother Earth (Matre Terra) that nourishes and sustains us, first sung in the Umbrian dialect 800 years ago in St Francis’s Canticle of Creation, is as relevant today as it was when it was first composed in the dimly-lit church of San Damiano, Assisi. St Francis’s perception of the unity of all creation and unqualified love for all elements of nature tie in with a respect for humankind and creation in every single choice we make.
Dar Frate Jacoba is where I first heard about permaculture. This set of design principles aims to create ecologically-sound and economically viable systems that provide for one’s needs without exploiting or polluting and are, therefore, sustainable in the long term.
It supports life using the inherent qualities of plants and animals combined with the natural characteristics of landscapes and structures. For example, a farmer practising permaculture would know how to use certain wild flowers and plants to attract pests away from crops, thereby rendering the use of pesticides unnecessary.
The principles of permaculture were applied when planning Dar Frate Jacoba’s surroundings. The crops and fruits grown and indigenous trees planted have led to a permanent improvement to the natural surroundings – as the word ‘permaculture’ implies.
It also embraces strict rules of respect for nature and sustainability, making it a shining example for other Church institutions and civil society
Now the hundreds of trees growing around the home improve the air quality and provide a visual treat to residents, visitors and passers-by. The fields are also designed to reflect typical Maltese forestation, better known as forest gardening.
As Pope Francis says, nature is God’s social media, and it is difficult not to be carried away by Dar Frate Jacoba’s simple, rustic environment. The olives, palms and tamarisk trees as well as the views over the surrounding fields enhance the atmosphere of prayer
The home’s chapel is a former arched stable converted into a place not only for Mass and liturgical prayer but also for informal Bible sharing, or Lectio divina.
In addition to offering beautiful surroundings the home also gives young people an opportunity to feel welcomed and to learn various trades and crafts as well as academic subjects.
Since 2018, Dar Frate Jacoba has been officially recognised as an educational institution. Today it receives assistance both from the State and various benefactors, besides generating income by organising events and selling a small range of its own organic products.
To help it reach its various objectives, the home is supported by a network of volunteers who complement the work of the community. The public has also been generous towards the Dar Frate Jacoba initiative, helping it to reach its aims.
Dar Frate Jacoba is organising an open weekend this Saturday and Sunday on the theme of ‘Mother Earth’.
Visitors will be able to visit the chapel, wander through its natural surroundings, listen to live music and sample agricultural and other products as well as enjoy meals prepared by the home’s community.
The event will be held on Saturday from 3 to 10pm, and on Sunday, from 9am to 6pm. Mass will be celebrated on Saturday at 5pm and on Sunday at 9am.
A full programme of events may be found on the Facebook page Dar Frate Jacoba.
The home is located in Triq Wied iz-Ziju, in a side street on the main road to Marsascala opposite the recycling plant, immediately before the Family Park.
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