A Place of Peace

Father Mintoff has been providing shelter for refugees and migrants for over 15 years.

Father Mintoff shows UNHCR around the Peace Lab.
© UNHCR/Stephanie Scicluna

Nestled amongst army barracks and towering metal containers, John XXIII Peace Laboratory is an oasis offering shelter to people fleeing conflict, persecution and poverty. UNHCR speaks with Fr Dionysius Mintoff, a priest who has been running the centre for the last 15 years.


 This article was originally published in February 2018

This gardened sanctuary, situated in Ħal Far, one of Malta’s industrial estates, was originally part of a British airfield which suffered aggressive air raids during the blitz of the Second World War.

“Ħal Far was a hub and centre of war. It saw thousands of soldiers and sailors coming from the entire Commonwealth,” explains Fr Mintoff.

Today, the centre sits between Lyster Barracks, which has acted as a detention centre for people seeking asylum, and two of Malta’s largest reception centres, characterised by rows of pre-fabricated containers and, in the past, also tents.

The Peace Lab was set up in 1971, following an appeal made by Pope John XXIII, who called for the world to reflect on peace. “As a Franciscan, and a Maltese who has personally seen the outcomes of war, I decided to open a space that advocates for peace education in Malta” he explains.

We transformed this space from a place of war to a place of peace.

A couple of decades later, on one very memorable night, Fr Mintoff recalls hearing loud screams coming from the army barracks situated across the road from the Peace Lab. When inquiring on what caused the commotion the next morning, the guards informed him that several individuals, from a number of African countries, had arrived in Malta on a boat in search of asylum.

“There was a lot of panic that spread around Malta after this. The Maltese thought that these individuals would spread disease, take their jobs and most of all take over our [Roman Catholic] religion”, says Father Mintoff.

Since 2002 Peace Lab has offered shelter to refugees and migrants. Peace Lab offers a number of activities in an environment conducive to learning, inclusion and acceptance, as Father Mintoff reflects: “This is a place where people can learn and be free. A place where people of different religions can live together peacefully. A place where people can be happy.”

Inside Peace Lab, one may find a church, a mosque, and a prayer room for all religions. Fr Mintoff prays together with the largely Muslim residents inside the mosque. When asked why he feels the need to pray with those who have different religious background, Fr Mintoff responded with:

“When you pray with others it means that you live with them, you know them and they know you. For remember: to God there is no one, or the other.”

 

Father Mintoff with some of the residents at Peace Lab. © UNHCR/Stephanie Scicluna

 

Father Mintoff at World Refugee Day 2019, with former UNHCR Representative to Malta, Kahin Ismail. © UNHCR/Niels den Hollander

 

Note: This article was originally published in February 2018, in Moving Forward, a UNHCR Malta magazine.