For the first time blind people yesterday read from a Maltese version of the Bible during Mass at St John's Co-Cathedral yesterday.

Charles Borg and Brigitte Micallef read Psalm 8 and excerpts from the Acts of the Apostles related to St Paul's Shipwreck in Malta from a special edition of the Braille Bible printed in Maltese.

The ambitious project was the result of efforts by the Maltese Bible Society, which obtained help from the United Bible Societies, to realise a dream of many blind Maltese.

Eight volumes of the Bible - the four Gospels, the Book of Psalms and the Acts of the Apostles - have just been published.

Maltese Bible Society secretary Grace Cilia said there were plans for the entire Bible, comprising some 70 volumes, to be published within the next two years. The New Testament would be ready within the next year.

The project has so far cost Lm10,000 and 30 copies have been printed.

"We know it's very costly and that demand is limited, but if we wanted to be credible, we had to ignore the 99 per cent and seek the single one who could not read the Bible," he said.

A symbolic donation of Lm10 was being asked to cover the eight volumes, but if people could not afford to make the donation, the volumes were free, she said.

For blind people to read the Bible in Maltese it was necessary for someone to read it to them. Alternatively they had to listen to a recording and then type it in Braille to be able to read it.

Maltese blind people were given copies of the Bible in English in 1971.

For Charles Borg, who proofread the texts of the newly published volumes in Maltese, this was a dream come true.

"I always wished I could read the Bible in Maltese, but it never crossed my mind that I would actually proofread it too," he said.

The Braille code in Maltese has long been established and has different symbols for the Maltese language.

It is estimated that there are some 2,000 blind people in Malta, of whom very few have learnt Braille.

Ms Cilia said although blind people can read the computer through a speech engine, the synthesiser they used read English, Italian or German but became confused when reading Maltese.

"We want to create a speech engine for the blind so that they can read Maltese on the computer. This costs about Lm20,000 to design but a local software engineer is willing to do it for about Lm3,000, for which a sponsorship is being sought," she said.

The Bible Society is also interested in audio projects for those who cannot read Braille and bibles in Maltese printed in large fonts for people who have difficulty reading small print.

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