Malta Passport Applications 1900-1930


(Source: Malta National Archives Rabat)

By Mark Caruana

The above table lists the number of Malta passport applicants who left Malta for Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia) during 1900-30. A total of 14 applicants, mainly during the years 1927-30.

Except for a native Abyssinian seaman who renewed his passport in Malta to visit his relatives, the overwhelming majority of Maltese applicants during 1900-30 were religious nuns of the Gozo-founded Congregation of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Sacred Heart; the first lay brother of the Missionary Society of St Paul; and a Capuchin friar.

Little is known about the first applicant to Abyssinia, a young single man, Vincenzo Bugeja son of Carmelo, a printer by trade, who was born in Sliema and resided in B'Kara. He applied for a Malta passport in January 1927.

A few months later, on the 27th June 1927, another passport applicant, a Bro. Joseph Caruana (Fra Guzepp Caruana) from Cospicua applied for a Malta passport. He was one of the first two young members who joined Mgr. Joseph De Piro in his dream to found the Missionary Society of St Paul in June 1910. Bro. Joseph was a lay brother who then resided at Casa San Guzeppe, Hamrun. His passport application was authenticated by Mons. Joseph De Piro himself. Some days later, this very first SSP religious brother, aged 35 years, left Malta for Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in East Africa.

In the book Giuseppe De Piro 1877-1933 by religious historian Alexander Bonnici OFM Conv. 1988, Bro. Joseph is described as a spiritual person, able to adapt well to children. He is also a nurse. He boarded a boat to Aden and from Aden proceeded to Harar. Bro Joseph stayed in Abyssinia all his life till his death on the 23rd April 1975 aged 83 years. He had never returned to Malta, not even for a holiday to take a rest. Full of missionary zeal, he dedicated his whole life evangelising and serving his brethren. He died in Ethiopia, after 48 years of self-less dedication.

The initiative to do missionary work in Ethiopia came from a Capuchin friar, namely Fr Angelo Mizzi OFM Cap. who visited Malta to recruit religious sisters to provide care in hospitals, orphanages, child care centres founded by the Capuchin Order in Abyssinia. Fr Angelo Mizzi was the brother of the well-known Maltese statesman Nerik Mizzi, and Fr Angelo had been in Djibouti (then French Somaliland) for a number of years as a missionary.

The Franciscan Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, founded by the Ven. Margarita De Brincat from Kercem Gozo, accepted Fr Angelo's suggestion to expand the Congregation's growing missionary apostolate outside of Europe and into the African continent.

The formal ceremony of sending its first nuns to Ethiopia took place at its Congregation Mother House in Rabat Gozo on the 6th October 1927, followed by a similar ceremony the next day at its religious house at Valletta (Casa Pilar of West Street Valletta). Three days later, four nuns applied for a passport, led by the Mistress of Novices, Hal-Lija born Giovanna Agius, in religion Sr Maria Rosa Agius. The three other nuns were from Rabat (Malta), Sliema and San Lawrenz Gozo respectively.

The four sisters left Malta two days later, sailing for Alexandria Egypt. After three weeks at sea, they arrived at Sofi, near Harar, on the river Nile where their missionary work was started. Sadly, Mother Superior Rosa Agius died two years later in Nov. 1929 followed by the death of another nun Sr Maria Anna De Brincat from Kercem. Their loss was quickly filled in by other sisters from Gozo. The Congregation is still present in Ethiopia today. (Source: Inhobbu l-Imhabba, profil bijografiiku ta' Madre Margarita De Brincat fundatrici by Paolo Calliari, 1988.


Though the passport applications in this study end in 1930, it is known that more passports were issued to Abyssinia in the post-war years. In an oral history interview I did with the late Fr Frank Delia OFM Cap. he told me of his years in Ethiopia before his coming to Australia in the sixties. So did another Maltese Capuchin in Australia the late Fr Ugo Demaria OFM Cap. As a young priest, Fr Ugo was sent to Africa as military chaplain in Asmara, Eritrea, being later named parish priest in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He passed away in Rooty Hill NSW in 2010.

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