24.04.24! It was a momentous occasion, as 110 school staff, chaplains, nuns and priests, catechists, and formation leaders celebrated a decade of Prayer Spaces in Malta.

Organized by the dedicated team of Spiritual Development in Schools within the Vicariate of Evangelisation of the Archdiocese of Malta, the celebration was more than just a gathering of individuals. It was a gathering of hearts united in faith and gratitude for the precious gift of life and the countless blessings that had enriched our paths, especially through Prayer Spaces in Schools.

The enriching seminar was full of stories of gratitude, spiritual growth, insightful discussions, and meaningful connections.  We delved into the genesis of Prayer Spaces in the UK and worldwide through an inspiring interview with Phil Togwell, International Director of Prayer Spaces in Schools. Following, a panel discussion comprised of Fr Paul Chetcuti SJ, Fr Reuben Gauci, Silvana Cardona and Bernadette Sammut Briffa explored the spiritual growth through a decade of prayer spaces in Malta. Many educators have animated Prayer Spaces for various ages and under various circumstances during this decade. The sharing of their experiences and the importance of networking is paramount for the development of Prayer Spaces in Malta. Therefore, we discovered the profound impact of prayer spaces through compelling stories from various educators shared in a Human Library format.

Feedback from the Human Library workshops

In each group, a ‘human book’ shared their experience while participants were asked for suggestions to make Prayer Spaces more effective in the next decade. They shared these ideas:

  • There is a need for educators and people who are interested in prayer spaces to be trained.
  • The importance of follow-up and the need for support and continuity after a prayer space is held in a school or elsewhere.
  • Fostering community ties between school and church and expanding prayer spaces for marriage preparation, elderly care homes, local councils, and utilizing garden outings.
  • Parental involvement and encouraging prayer spaces at home with their children.
  • Proposed creating support networks like WhatsApp groups for Prayer Spaces practitioners.
  • Children, young people, and adults experience more joy and human connection through Prayer Spaces, advocating for language that touches the heart and inclusivity for all.

At the Seminar celebrating 10 years of Prayer Spaces (PS), participants – educators but religious counsellors, catechists, pastoral workers and others from different sectors – were split into workshops intriguingly described as a human library. It was set up according to the participant’s background and led by experienced individuals in PS. The exercise was aimed at echoing the past, and it voiced inspirations for the future of PS in Malta. These are 5 takeaways:

1. Prayer Spaces can touch hearts.

The secret of PS is that they are capable of speaking to the hearts of many children but also adults. One person from the Cana Formation stated that PS helped them to introduce a less ritualised form of prayer where “participants really enjoyed it and showed more joy and human feelings.” A question rose about whether one should introduce PS in contemporary multi-cultural state schools because of the oppositions they might rise among parents of different or no faiths. It was then suggested that to eliminate any prejudice,  parents could be invited to have a ‘taste’ of PS for themselves. The conviction is that PS speak volumes about values that are universal and which are behind many faiths.

2. Prayer Spaces include hosts.

It was suggested that one could install PS permanently at school or even at home. While bekids.mt has been supporting a lot of families since the pandemic, Phil Togwell, international director for Prayer Spaces, warned that “rooms alone cannot be hospitable … (rather) animators make it alive and are hosts to those who enter the space … (as) persons need to feel welcome and this can be made by other people.” One group has, in fact, echoed the need for PS to include hosts or animators because they can assist participants either on the spot or as a follow-up.

3. Prayer Spaces invites for follow-up and support

The need to follow-up PS can be understood differently by different people. Some think of promoting further PS at a given school, yet others relate it with prolonged prayer experiences. In any case, follow-up is reminiscent of pastoral support, perhaps to “make clearer the picture (one has) of God,” as one group argued. The question of how to follow up on prayer activities like Big Questions was also raised. In reply, Phil Togwell was very reassuring, explaining that “there is no need to answer them as life is full of Big Questions. But at least they permitted themselves to ask these questions – a step towards deeper faith.”

4. Prayer Spaces require training of educators and animators

The suggestion that educators and prospective animators need training in PS was evident. Others suggested that courses, like the one offered by the Pastoral Formation Institute (PFI), are beneficial in teaching how to set up PS. Many agree that the best training includes a first-hand experience of PS. This is why the Spiritual Development in Schools team also provides COPE sessions for teachers.  Some participants were worried about the lack of physical space. However, Phil Togwell was very encouraging, saying there is no reason to worry about the lack of space in a given school or parish since “a cupboard … will be found somewhere.”

5. Prayer Spaces aims to foster community ties

PS might not solve it all, but it can promote community ties. PS in state schools is seen as “an opportunity,” perhaps for the faith and the broader communities to mingle. We hear then how PS was found to be popular with engaged couples, in homes for the elderly, and local councils; how catechists are intrigued with the link that PS can strengthen with the liturgy. And what about ties with the home itself? Indeed, parents must be on board for PS participation at school, but what about having them at home? These could easily be done there, too.

In the end, home is where the heart is, and while PS aims to touch and express the heart as the ultimate prayer space, it makes it possible for them to be set up anywhere, especially where people can feel at home or long for Home.

Words of encouragement and gratitude

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Galea-Curmi encouraged us to continue sowing the seeds of hope and love, providing spaces for prayer, and sharing the joy of faith.

Thank you very much, Fr Reuben, Phil, Fr Paul, Silvana, Ben, Glen and all of you, for taking part in this event.

My homilies are short, and this message will be short, too. First of all, a word of gratitude to all those who have started and developed this initiative of Prayer Spaces over the years. When we look back, we see how much God has worked through so many people who have helped the students pray. Students have many questions. Prayer Spaces can help them understand the real deep questions they have in their lives. More than necessarily providing answers, Prayer Spaces can help them make the right questions. So, first of all, a word of gratitude – thank you very much to all those, over the years, who have worked and who are still very much active and involved in Prayer Spaces in our schools and communities.

Together with gratitude, a word of encouragement. You have shared your good experiences. These are experiences of best practice. I want to encourage this. You are doing something which is very positive, very helpful for students, and also, as you mentioned, for their parents and their families. Ultimately, it’s good for the community because it is not just helping a student to go into his or her inner self but also linking this to the community. So I want to encourage you to continue with this positive experience.

Finally, a word of hope. In our work, we plant seeds. It is always like that in education. We do not immediately see the fruits of those seeds, maybe at times we might never see the results. I want to quote words attributed to Saint Oscar Romero – though they were not really his words but explain the way he carried out his mission. I think these words sum up what you are doing – I see in them what I am trying to do in my ministry. This is the quote: “This is what we are about: we plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation realising that. This enables us to do something and to do it well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future, not our own.”

May these words be a source of inspiration to all of you involved in Prayer Spaces. Do work with this spirit. Thank you very much.

Fr Reuben Gauci thanked Phil Togwell, Prayer Spaces in Schools, the 24-7 Prayer Movement and all the nations for their support while expressing gratitude to all participants who enthusiastically and generously shared their stories of prayer spaces and made this seminar an inspiring one.

May we continue providing these spaces where the people are and our work to share the Good News until the end of the World.

If you participated in the seminar and want to share your feedback with us, follow this link. We appreciate your thoughts!