9.8 Religion

Religion has always provided an important means of spiritual and psychological support to Maltese migrants. Their social life revolved about the church calendar. The church in Malta dominated their minds as it physically dominated their village homes.

There is inadequate research on the degree of deprivation perceived by the Maltese migrant in this respect. Ravalico (1987) in a study which included a small number of Maltese immigrant women finds that the number of Maltese who attend Mass in their own language is only 13% (compared to 74% of Lebanese and 86% of Vietnamese). The language of mass they attend is usually in English. Many of them (75%) still go to mass every week, and the majority (83%) believe that "there should be celebrations of Feast Days and Saints' Days in our local Church". Many (90%) miss the processions and celebrations which they had back home, and 78% would like their religious life to be as it used to be back home. In fact, they seem to miss the culturally more germane approach of the Maltese clergy. Religious ceremonies conducted by a Maltese priest give them greater satisfaction. Some complain that "the way people in Australia practice religion is different form the way it is practiced in my country". Some even go so far as to complain that they "do not understand religion in Australia ... When we came to Australia, we used to go to Church every Sunday. But the priest is Irish. He is so boring and stiff. There is no compassion for people's weaknesses." However, most (68%) believe that Australian priests do understand the needs of the immigrant woman.

Although 89% stated that their children go to catholic schools with a further 6% going to both State and catholic schools, education statistics indicate that only about 50% of Victorian school students attend catholic schools. (See chapter on education).

These deep-felt religious background was still evident in the recent study by OMA (1989) were over 91% of respondents stated that religion or faith is important to them personally.

The strength of Maltese migrants has been their determination to build a strong family. They have a continuing commitment. to their children and the extended family. This process begins with building of the family home and furnishing it with all that is required for a comfortable life. Very often it involves support and help to the family of their children who they like to see settled in close vicinity to them.

The change from the lifestyle of an island people, which may be seen, particularly from afar, to be more romantic and less complicated, to the hustle and bustle of metropolitan life, has been achieved by the majority with little evident long-term trauma. Some have clung tenaciously to the old way of life. A few have tried to assimilate and lose all connections with the old country. Most have achieved a balanced existence in their new homeland. In fact, in the process of building for themselves a home away from home "the Maltese may see themselves as a continual part of Malta, as well as residents and good citizens of Australia (Jupp et al 1989).

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