A SALUTE TO OUR WEB MASTER – Fr. John Abela ofm

December 19th, 2010 @ 18:33 |

On Sunday 19th December we received the sad news of the death of Fr. John Abela ofm, our web master. Fr. John died in Rome, where he was working at the Communications Office of the General Curia of the Order of Friars Minor, at the age of 56 years.

John Abela was born in Rabat, Malta, on 31st August 1954, son of Carmelo and Victoria Micallef. He entered the Order of Friars Minor in the Maltese Franciscan Province of Saint Paul the Apostle as a postulant at St. Francis Friary in Hamrun. On 3rd October 1971 he began his Novitiate year at St. Anthony’s Friary on the island of Gozo, and on 1st October 1972 made his Temporary Profession. He studied philosophy at St. Mary of Jesus Friary in Rabat. On 22nd August 1976 he made his Solemn Profession. He studied theology in Jerusalem, at the Franciscan International Seminary of St. Saviour’s Monastery, in the Holy Land Custody. On 7th July 1979 he was ordained priest by the Archbishop of Malta Mgr. Joseph Mercieca.

After his ordination he was sent for higher studies at the Pontificium Athenaeum Antonianum in Rome, where he acquired a Licentiate in Philosophy (specialisation in Pedagogy). Upon returning to the Maltese Franciscan Province he became Master of Students in the Franciscan Seminary at Hamrun. He subsequently ministered in the friary of St. Mary of Jesus in Valletta, and in “Dar Frate Francesco” in Birkirkara. He was also Provincial Secretary and Provincial Definitor in 1990-1996.

One of his main areas of ministry was with young people, particularly as a Vocations Animator and a play writer. He is the author of numerous plays with a socio-religious message presented between 1982 and 1996 at the Catholic Institute in Floriana with the theatre group MASK, particularly on the occasion of Holy Week. Afterwards he joined the theatre group SKENE in Luqa, Malta, where he continued to present other plays till quite recently. Together with other Maltese Franciscans he collaborated in many new areas of apostolate, particularly in the “Zjara Frangiskana”, or popular missions to the parishes, and in the launching of a telephone counselling service.

But his most important field of activity was that of a pioneer in the area of cyber technology and communication through Internet. It is thanks to Fr. John Abela that the Maltese Franciscan Province was one of the first provinces of the Order to have its own website in 1995. Through his ability in the field he also pioneered the launching of the website of the Holy Land Custody, in collaboration with the “Studium Biblicum Franciscanum” of Jerusalem.

John Abela’s links with the Holy Land Custody run deep. For nearly thirty years he took part in the annual archaeological excavations at Mount Nebo and other Byzantine sites in Jordan (Nebo, Machaerus, Madaba, Umm al-Rasas, Mukhayyet, Wadi Mousa, Ain Kaniseh) under the leadership of the famous Franciscan archaeologist Fr. Michele Piccirillo ofm († 26th October 2008), of whom he was a close collaborator.

From 1996 to his death John Abela resided in the General Curia of the Order of Friars Minor in Rome, where he was responsible for the Communications Office, and was web-master of the official website of the Order.

In the meantime he continued his contacts with the Holy Land, as a spiritual animator of pilgrims, both from Malta and from Canada and the US. He is author of a guidebook on the Holy Land in Maltese “L-Art Imqaddsa mal-Frangiskani”, and of a text on Biblical Geography, “Il-Bibbja fl-Ambjent taghha”, as well as of a booklet on the “Via Crucis” that has been translated into English. He posted many entries on the Holy Places in the Custody’s website.

In 2009 he became web master of a new website, i-tau.com featuring entries and publications in English by a group of Maltese Franciscans. His most recent initiative was that of collaborating in planning the presentation of e-books on the same site.

John Abela died at San Pietro Hospital in Rome, at 9.30 am on Sunday 19th December. His funeral takes place on 20th December at 5.30 pm at the General OFM Curia in Rome, and later this week he will be taken to Malta for burial on 24th December.