Owen Bonnici – (Minister for the National Heritage, the Arts, and the Local Government.)
I was left speechless when a friend of mine texted me a few days ago to inform me that Silvio Parnis was in a grave situation health-wise. In the meantime, another friend who had just visited him in hospital moments before repeated the same thing. Hearing this twice over in a span of a very short time, I decided to urgently pay my friend a visit.
As I entered the part of hospital dedicated to palliative care and walked towards the respective hall, I remembered and recalled all the things we went through together. The following day he passed away.
I am not able to pinpoint the exact moment when I met Silvio - whom we amicably used to refer to by his surname - for the first time, but it had to be when he was still Mayor of Paola. Then, I grew closer to Parnis and by the time I made it to Parliament four legislatures ago we became good friends. In the meantime, he had already made a name for himself in the political field.
We had opportunities to have long conversations, and sometimes we even met for the occasional beer along with other MPs such as Chris Agius. The chats were very interesting and we shared our disappointments and our proud moments. Silvio had an incredible horse-sense and ability to be extremely close to the people, much more than anyone else in the Parliamentary Group, except maybe for Marie Louise Coleiro Preca.
The people loved him dearly, he was extremely popular with his constituents and he took extra care to assist and help the vulnerable members of society.
There were another two things which he loved with all his heart: his family and the Catholic religion.
Silvio was blessed with a very supportive wife, Dorianne, and a beautiful son, Jacob. He used to talk about them all the time, particularly when we worked together in the same Ministry between 2017 and 2020. It was evident that they meant the world to him.
He was also a staunch Christian and I have the impression that he had even spent some years enrolled in the MUSEUM movement. For sure he had told me that he used to teach catholicism to young kids in his pre-politics days. Sometimes his strong belief in Christian values clashed with the ideas that the Labour movement was pushing forward post 2008. On divorce, for instance, Silvio and I had
diametrically opposing views. However, I admire the very professional and mature way with which he tackled those controversies (for want of a better word) and he always took a measured and calibrated approach.
For that and much much more, I really admired Silvio.
Rest in peace my friend. You deserve all the good things that have been written about you.
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If there had the be a list of the top 10 most popular churches in Malta, I am sure that the Franciscan Church of Our Lady of Jesus (Ta’ Ġiezu’) makes it on that list.
I had the pleasure to visit the ongoing restoration work which is being done on the outside of the Church with an investment of €300,000. I thank Fr Ramon for his kind hospitality.
The Franciscan Church of Our Lady of Jesus faces St John Street and is corner with St Ursula Street in Valletta. The Franciscan complex including the convent is a corner building facing St John Street, St Ursula Street and St Lucy Street on the west, south and east facades, respectively. The St Ursula Street façade is decorated by an articulated niche, scheduled as Grade 1 artistic architecture and by the statue of St Anthony (Sant Antnin), which is another Grade 1 monument right at the corner with St John Street.
Famed historians Fr. Noel Muscat OFM and Fr Ġorġ Aquilina OFM went into great detail in explaining the historical background of this Church, with the book “Il-Franġiskani Maltin” written by the latter probably being the best source of information on this temple.
As those historians tell us, in April 1571 the Franciscan Friars Minor asked Grand Master Pietro del Monte to donate a plot of land in Valletta in order to build a church and a friary. On 18 May 1571 Del Monte donated a plot of land bordering upon Via del Monte (St. John Street), Via San Pietro (St. Ursola Street) and Via S. Maria della Vittoria (St. Lucia Street).
The foundation stone was laid on 21 September 1575. The architect was Girolamo Cassar, who supervised the construction personally. A building that served as a church was already open for worship in 1577. In 1647, when Fr. Filiberto Peylabere was Guardian, big structural transformations were made in the church. In order to strengthen the church, in 1689 a new facade was built in Doric style, according to a plan drawn by Mederico Blondel, military engineer of the Order of St. John.
In 1883 some cracks appeared in the wall overlooking St. Ursola Street. The friars asked the Government for permission to build a new supporting wall. In 1833 they repaired the flat ceiling of the central aisle. The roof was rebuilt in 1923-26. From it hangs the present wooden ceiling encased in an iron cage and supported by steel beams, above which are the stone slabs of the flat roof. This unique work of architectural engineering was done under the supervision of architect Rinaldo Soler and the wooden panels are the work of the Franciscan lay brother Cels Micallef.
Since the main façade is situated in a relatively narrow, shaded street, it exhibits soiling and deterioration mechanisms associated with biological decay. Apart from the overall superficial deposits, the projecting cornices and pediment are in fact greatly affected by black crust formation especially in sheltered moldings.
Softening, powdering and back weathering of some of the individual stone blocks in these areas can also be noted such as on the frontispiece. In some cases, this has led to loss of sculptural detail. The lower part of the facade was painted over at some point. The paint, some of which is peeling, is an eyesore and reduces the legibility of the façade by dividing it in two, an upper and a lower section. Localized loss of pointing mortar can also be noted.
The façade overlooking St Orsla Street exhibits biological soil in the upper part where the masonry remained wet from rainwater run-off from the roof. The lower areas of the façade show signs of deterioration and back weathering in some areas. The belfry presents a similar situation. Certain balusters have been completely lost in the past. It appears that new ones had been re-laid but widely spaced. A mapping exercise has been carried out which identifies the different forms of deterioration and extraneous interventions on both facades of the church. The results were presented in the drawings submitted in the minor amendment application to the Planning Authority in June 2022.
Works on site commenced mid October 2022 and restoration works are expected to be completed by the end of January 2024.
I would like to praise the commitment of the Restoration Directorate, especially Perit Norbert Gatt and Perit Jean Frendo for their dedication for restoring this historic church.
We are preserving the Maltese cultural heritage for generations to come whilst adding value to our Capital City.