Take the atheist’s pew... How non-believers in Malta succour the afflicted

For the Malta Humanist Society, its chaplaincy can offer companionship to someone who shares their world view

When nobody is out there...
When nobody is out there...

Who does an atheist pray to in trying times?

For the Malta Humanist Society, an organisation that came into its own during Malta’s first experience with far-reaching civil liberties, its members prefer “companionship” and the intervention of somebody who can listen.

For loneliness is indeed one of the most common, and unpleasant, emotions that millions of people experience. But seeking support from family and friends isn’t always possible, the Malta Humanist Society says, which is why they have launched what is the first Humanist Chaplaincy in Malta.

An MHS member, Christian Colombo, says compassion towards human beings was at the heart of humanism. “The Humanist Chaplaincy is set up with that principle in mind, to provide an ear to anyone needing support... State institutions such as hospitals and prisons, outsource their pastoral care and support solely to the Catholic Church. But people have the right when seeking support, to speak to someone who shares their world view.”

Colombo says that only if someone specifically asked for a carer from another denomination would such support be made available.

The Humanist Association in Malta played a significant role in supporting the 2011 divorce referendum, just a year after the association was founded. Before his untimely death, Ramon Casha, the former chairperson of the association, played a leading role in various campaigns such as divorce, the introduction of same-sex civil unions, against spring hunting, and being in favour of the introduction of the ‘morning after’ pill in Malta.    

“As religion continues to decline, not just in Malta but across Europe, it has become increasingly important to offer these services for people from all walks of life. Originally, we started with providing services for weddings. However, we wanted to go one step further,” Colombo says. “We are not here to solve problems, although we will try to provide practical solutions if we can. The services are there to provide support, even if it’s just going out for a coffee and having a chat. We do not provide therapy; it’s more along the lines of a companionship.”

Colombo himself, and others who volunteer, are accredited by the UK’s Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network. He said that all those who volunteer, carry non-judgmental attitudes, with “a keen commitment to help others,” while keeping a strict sense of professionalism. 

“Currently, we don’t have an office set up, so if people wish to make use of our service, they can contact us through our Facebook Page,” Colombo says. The Humanist Chaplaincy in Malta has also partnered with both Mater Dei Hospital and Corradino Correctional Facility to give assistance when possible.