Immigrant who was shot to death in Ħal Far has portrait painted inside Gozo basilica

Lassana Cisse, the 42-year-old father of three who was killed in cold blood in April 2019 in Ħal Far, for what appears to be racist motives, is now represented in a painting at the St George Basilica in Rabat, Gozo. This is one of eight new paintings at this Church, one for every Act of Mercy, aimed at creating awareness among people not to turn the other way from those who need help. It forms part of a series of initiatives which this parish is taking on this issue.

The Acts of Mercy is a kind of political programme for Christians created by Christ himself 2000 years ago. The parish of St George is working with parishioners to put these Acts of Mercy into practice.  As a tribute, artist Manuel Farrugia was commissioned to create a set of eight portraits on the ceiling of the Basilica’s nave. Four of these are ready and the other four will be completed by next year.

The Archpriest, Can. Joseph Curmi, urged people to appreciate the symbolism of the paintings with the protagonist in the centre wearing a halo, not because he is a saint but because Christ made himself present among the poor among us – the prisoner, the deceased, the foreigner, the environment. In every painting there are two other figures, one which represents Christ and the other representing society. From the completed paintings if we take the  theme “I was a foreigner and you welcomed me” the protagonist is the immigrant Lassana Cisse, with society represented by people gazing at their mobile.

“Now what is society going to do? It will either keep scrolling as we do on our mobile or it can decide to pay attention to him. The Church is the same. The Church is represented by a priest outside the door. Why? Because the foreigner cannot become part of us by telling him to come inside. First, we have to go outside.”

He continues to explain that the project “Where is your brother?”does not stop with these portraits but will continue with a number of concrete initiatives. He pointed out that things started moving when they heard in the news that people are dying and no one can pay for their funeral. He explained that the parish will be offering graves to those who have nowhere to be buried and every month it is celebrating Mass for our brethren who have been forgotten.

Speaking about the reality of foreigners, a seminar was held over five weeks with the participation of expert speakers and an invitation was made to prisoners to adopt a prisoner or a victim. In the Gospel, the Acts of Mercy are seven, however five years ago, Pope Francis added the eighth one in which Christians are urged to take care of the environment.

“We have a very nice project on l-Għolja ta’ Għammar, Ta’ Pinu, where we are creating a family garden for families to plant trees, and take part in the maintenance and then be able to take their children there.  We have started it already but it needs a lot of work.”

In the second year, the project will focus on those who are starving, and hence the invitation: “feed those who are hungry”. Over the next few months prisoners will be supporting the kitchen opened by the Franciscans in Valletta. The Archbishop explained that apart from this, services in society will be identified which no one has thought of, and the parish will be involving itself in them.