On April 28, I took part in the Gozo Half Marathon, organised annually by the Xagħra Youth Centre in Gozo. The event attracted around 1,500 participants.

Claimed to be the oldest road race to be held in Malta, this was the 43rd edition of the Gozo Marathon, the brainchild of Dun (now Mgr) Anton Refalo who ran the village youth centre at the time.

Being relatively a beginner where running is concerned, this occasion proved to be an endurance test. Now, I am truly glad I decided to take part and proved capable of finishing the race in good time. Besides, it was also an opportunity to enjoy a first-hand experience of the impeccable way such an event is organised.

I am told that the organising committee of this event is all formed of youths themselves, mainly students hailing from the village of Xagħra who commute daily to the sister island of Malta for study or for work.

It was certainly a superhuman effort on the part of these youths who endeavoured in staging such an event, which no doubt entails lots of hard work, logistic planning and innumerable sacrifices.

One could soon tell, from the very start of the event, that the organising group was very well organised and determined. These factors certainly contributed greatly to the success of this sportive event, which is no longer an uncommon one to the Maltese islands.

I felt proud and surprised to have met so many foreign competitors mainly from European countries, participating in the Half Marathon. They simply loved it and their facial expressions showed it! 

All along the road, especially in inhabited areas, we competitors were cheered by locals and tourists alike. This made me reflect on such a wonderful way of presenting a lively and sportive snapshot of life on our smaller island. 

All along the road, especially in inhabited areas, we competitors were cheered by locals and tourists alike

Thumbs up to the organisers who, aptly, chose the square adjacent to UNESCO world heritage site of the megalithic Ġgantija Temples, in Xagħra, to serve as a backdrop to the starting point of the race.

The same site served as an expo area organised on the eve of the marathon.  I am sure that such sportive events help tremendously to promote tourism, presenting Gozo as a desirable destination.

The joyful and positive experience of being part of all this, triggered a pensive mood.

There I was, taking part in an event organised on a voluntary basis by youths, members of a centre run by the Church. I think there are still many people in our society that struggle to appreciate the efforts carried out by the  Church over the years, in promoting the education of our youths through sports and culture.  The Church on both our islands provided premises, know-how, leadership and finances to initiate and promote such activities. A hefty credit must go to the Church, which still invests heavily in educating the young, in a world which is afflicted and  overwhelmed by problems such as drug addiction, the increasing number of  separated families, loss of moral values and an increase in juvenile crimes.

We live in a society, which so often leans on the unique importance of profit at the expense of morality. It is certainly high time for us to appreciate much more and endorse similar initiatives taken by the Church in her constant vision of the common good. 

It is not only our duty to encourage dedicated youth for their work but we should also commit our full support. The society we live in certainly does not foster an environment of coming together to prepare initiatives for the benefit of society, unless they are financially lucrative.

Like many other Gozitan youths living in Malta, although these Xagħra youngsters spend most of their time on the sister island, decided to voluntarily give something back to society. What a laudable example. What a prestigious monument to volunteering in Gozo.

Let all of us in positions of responsibility in Gozo - government, Church, local councils, political parties and organisations - do away with talk, and continue to invest energy and finances in youth organisations. Young people like these organisers of  the Gozo Half Marathon, do miracles… and they do so because they heartily believe in their island.

Gozo has a true potential. Thanks to all at the Gozo Half Marathon. You made me feel proud once again that I am Gozitan.

Noel Formosa is mayor of San Lawrenz and a Nationalist Party local council candidate.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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