The Russian Orthodox community in Malta has applied to build a church, the first of its kind on the island, in Kappara, but will be facing opposition from local residents.
The St Paul the Apostle Parish of the Russian Orthodox Church, a community of around 200 people, does not currently have its own church in Malta and has so far held its services in Catholic churches around the island.
A representative of the parish told The Sunday Times of Malta that despite strong relations with the Catholic Church in Malta, the Curia understood the community’s need for its own place of worship.
Although the two faiths have close similarities, there are several aspects in which Catholic churches are unsuitable for Orthodox services, the representative said, such as the lack of segregation between altar and congregation.
Moreover, without a dedicated space, the parish does not have a resident priest and can only hold services when one visits from overseas, currently around 10 times a year.
The parish hopes this will change if planning permission for its new church, which will include a small apartment on its grounds, is granted, allowing for more regular services for parishioners.
But the church, which will be built in a traditional Russian Orthodox style with a steeple rising up to 26 metres, has been met with concern from Kappara residents.
The chosen site is an abandoned field in a residential area adjacent to the protected habitat of Wied Għollieqa. Residents who spoke to this newspaper said they felt the church would be an unsuitable addition to the community, exacerbating parking problems and negatively impacting the nearby valley.
The residents are currently taking advice ahead and planning to submit a joint objection to the Planning Authority in the coming weeks.
Their concerns are echoed by Nature Trust Malta, which is responsible for the management and guardianship of the Wied Għollieqa nature reserve.
The valley is an Area of High Landscape Sensitivity and Special Area of Conservation, as well as a designated bird sanctuary and tree protection area.
“This building and design…is unconducive to a Maltese valley landscape,” Nature Trust wrote in an objection to the Planning Authority. “The steeple which rises over 26 metres is visually intrusive. Such an activity would increase traffic, light and noise pollution and would greatly interfere with the ecology of the area and disrupt the serene and natural ambience of the reserve.”
While the application, which is open to public consultation until September 11, has yet to be assessed by many of the PA’s statutory consultees, the Design Advisory Committee has expressed concern over the design.
The committee said it would “appreciate if the design could move more towards the local architecture and context while still retaining the characteristics of a Russian Orthodox Church”. The parish representative said that while he had not been contacted by residents over the concerns, he was confident the proposal would not cause any inconvenience to the existing community.