Life of sacrifice and helping the poor inspires Fr Marcellinus

06 May 2009

By The Record

Local Friar proud of being a Franciscan; tells of his joy wherever he goes.                    


Fr Marcellinus Meilak, a Franciscan Friar born in Libya and ordained in Malta who was inspired to join the Order by the selfless work of Franciscans helping the poor in Libya despite their own poverty. Photo: Norm Jones


By Anthony Barich

Today’s world could learn much from St Francis’ way of life, says a local Franciscan who has himself been touched deeply by the simple but pious way the saint’s successors serve Christ in the poor.
Fr Marcellinus Meilak, A 68-year-old Franciscan of the Order of the Friars Minor (OFM) based at the Priory of St Francis at Doubleview, comes from a Maltese family but was born and grew up in Libya where his parents worked.
There, he was drawn to the Franciscan way of life as he was deeply moved by the unconditional love that the local Franciscans showed to the poor, helping the Arabs materially and spiritually.
“They taught me at school as I grew up as a Catholic Action boy, when I was in the parish choir… the example they gave me made me think ‘that’s what I want to be, to help these people, wanting to be like St Francis’,” Fr Marcellinus said.
“I was amazed by their work, their kindness and their charity. Though they were poor themselves, they still provided food and clothes to the poor in North Africa.”
In doing this, the Friars are carrying on the work of St Francis, who, coming from a rich background, threw it all away and made himself ‘minor’, hence the name of the ‘Friars Minor’. Franciscans of his time also did important work in fighting local heresies all over Europe, like St Anthony and St Bonaventure.
“St Francis’ simplicity makes him great. His great saying was that we have nothing but we possess everything,” Fr Marcellinus said. “He also said that the Friar who is idle and does nothing is like a fly who’s a parasite.”
St Francis himself took the poverty element to the extreme, using a rock as a pillow. Just as St Francis advocated for his Friars to own nothing, Fr Marcellinus owns nothing also. “If I was to move to Melbourne, I take nothing with me but the clothes on my back,” he said. “I don’t even own a car.”
His vocation decided by the witness of the Franciscans in Libya, Fr Marcellinus returned to Malta to study in a Franciscan seminary for nine years, during which time he was exposed to many other Religious orders, but is still proud to say he’s a Franciscan, and preaches about it where ever he goes. Despite the poverty, it is a rewarding experience as it helps him live out St Francis’ idea of not worrying about what the next day holds – just to work for Christ and His people today.
Life as a Franciscan has taken him around the world, and indeed around Australia. Ordained in Malta, Fr Marcellinus arrived in South Australia 42 years ago and spent eight years as chaplain to the Maltese and Italian communities in Adelaide after spending 16 years in Box Hill in Victoria. He has been in Perth for 16 years.
After all this time, and indeed 800 years after Pope Innocent III orally approved the Rule of St Francis, what the man stood for is still essential to a peaceful society today. “Francis offers peace, proper ecology and respect for God’s creation,” Fr Marcellinus said. “Peace is the number one priority. People go to Assisi for a time of peace; they feel the peace of St Francis in the city and the little citadel.
Francis is alive, not dead, and the Franciscan life and charism offers much joy and tranquility in a chaotic world, he says.