Pope Francis is visiting Malta this weekend. Here’s what to expect.

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Pope Francis is making his long, postponed visit to Malta this weekend, April 2-3, as the Russian attack on Ukraine rages on. He has long wanted to visit this Mediterranean island where, according to the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Paul was shipwrecked in 60 AD on his way to Rome, where he had asked to be judged. Francis wanted to come here to meet and pray with one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, which has kept the faith for nearly 2,000 years without interruption. He had planned to visit in February 2020 and again in December 2021 but had to postpone the visit both times due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This will be his 36th trip abroad as pope, and Malta will be the 56th country he will visit. He is the third pope to visit Malta; Pope John Paul II came here twice, in 1990 and 2001.

Francis has long wished to visit Malta where, according to the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Paul was shipwrecked in AD 60 on his way to Rome, where he had asked to be judged.

Benedict XVI’s visit in 2010 came on the eve of a decade of political, cultural and social change for Malta. The Maltese Church and the Vatican were acutely aware of this at the time, and Benedict XVI encouraged the islanders to respect human life from conception to natural death and to protect the family. After his visit, however, divorce legislation was introduced in 2011. Then in 2014, Malta allowed civil unions for same-sex couples, granting them the same rights and obligations as married couples, including the right to adoption. Same-sex marriage became legal in 2017.

Maltese society is today very favorable to the protection of the unborn child, but a lobby is slowly forming with foreign funding to promote the legalization of abortion. Major political parties have said legalizing abortion is not on their agenda, but the European Union and the Council of Europe are pushing for such legislation. Francis is likely to encourage them to stand firm on this issue.

In 2017, there were allegations of corruption among government officials following the Panama Papers leaks, and on October 16, 2017, Daphne Caruana Galizia, a journalist and blogger who had openly criticized the government, was murdered after a a car bomb exploded as she drove away from her home. Yorgen Fenech, a prominent businessman linked to the prime minister’s chief of staff, has been charged with ordering the murder, and the trial is ongoing. Amid the fallout from this incident, the Maltese government came under enormous pressure from the EU and the international community to carry out institutional reforms and address corruption issues. François should talk about it in his interview with the authorities shortly after his arrival.

Maltese society is today very favorable to the protection of the unborn child, but a lobby is slowly forming with foreign funding to promote the legalization of abortion.

The Maltese archipelago consists of three islands – Malta, Gozo and Comino – and has a population of 478,000 people, the majority of whom (85%) are Catholic. They are served by 716 priests, 797 consecrated women and 1,249 catechists.

As in other countries, Covid impacted Maltese society, including its traditionally rooted cycles of ritual and worship, but public religious practice was already in decline. A 2017 Mass attendance survey (only for Malta; Gozo declined to participate) showed that regular Sunday Mass attendance fell to 37%, but in a parallel telephone survey, 70% of respondents said they went to Sunday Mass once a month.

Pope Francis will arrive at Malta International Airport at 10 a.m. on Saturday, where he will be greeted by Maltese President George Vella and his wife. From there, he will travel to the Palace of the Grand Master in the city of Valletta. There, after a private conversation with the President, the Pope will welcome Prime Minister Robert Abela, who won re-election in national elections last weekend.

The Maltese archipelago consists of three islands – Malta, Gozo and Comino – and has a population of 478,000 people, the majority of whom (85%) are Catholic.

François will then be escorted by President Vella to the Grand Council room, where he will address an audience of some 150 people from the country’s political and civic authorities and its diplomatic corps. His speech will be scrutinized not only for what he might have to say about some of the challenges facing the island state, including issues such as the environment, corruption and economic transparency, but above all for what what he will say about the Russian war against Ukraine. and its global consequences.

From there, Francis will travel to the Vatican Embassy, ​​known as the Nunciature, where he will reside during his stay.

Later, on Saturday afternoon, he will travel by catamaran to the island of Gozo, which has a population of 30,000. Pope Francis will be joined by the island’s former bishop, Cardinal Mario Grech, and the cardinal’s successor, Bishop Anton Teuma, as well as Charles Scicluna, archbishop of Malta since 2015. (The pope appointed the Cardinal Grech secretary general of the synod of bishops in 2019, and the cardinal is traveling on the papal plane.)

Francis will lead a prayer service at Ta’ Pinu National Shrine, which houses a chapel that became a popular devotional pilgrimage site in the 15th century. A painting of the Assumption of the Virgin was placed in the chapel at a later date, but the chapel was then closed for two centuries and fell into disrepair. In 1883 it was reopened following a prodigious event associated with a peasant woman, Carmela Grima, who heard a voice tell her to recite three Hail Marys there, “one for each day I was in the grave “. She told a friend, Francesco Portelli, who said he too had heard that same voice. Soon after, both experienced miraculous healings and word spread. The shrine soon became a place of pilgrimage and remains so today; John Paul II came to pray there in 1990. Francis will pray and give a homily before returning to the nunciature.

Francis will lead a prayer service at Ta’ Pinu National Shrine, which houses a chapel that became a popular devotional pilgrimage site in the 15th century.

On Sunday morning, Francis will have a brief meeting at the nunciature with the Jesuit community in Malta before going to the Grotto of Saint Paul in the city of Rabat, where, according to tradition, Saint Paul stayed three months on the island after its sinking. ; during this time, the Acts of the Apostles tells us that he preached the Gospel, baptized people and healed the sick.

Saint John Paul II prayed here in 1990, and Benedict XVI did the same in 2010, on the 1950th anniversary of the apostle’s shipwreck. Francis will pray and light a votive lamp in the small grotto before heading to the Graneries, a square in the walled town of Floriana (just outside the capital Valletta), where he will concelebrate an open-air mass for some 20 000 people.

That afternoon, after greeting the conference of major religious superiors, Pope Francis will visit the John XXIII Peace Lab migrant center in Hal Far, one of Malta’s main industrial areas. There he will focus on the issue of migration and encourage the Maltese to continue their 2,000 year tradition of ‘extraordinary hospitality’ towards migrants.

The motto of his visit to Malta is a quote from the Acts of the Apostles – “They showed us extraordinary hospitality” (28:2) – a reference to how the islanders welcomed Saint Paul, his guards and fellow travelers when they arrived on the island. The logo for the visit shows the hands of a ship hit by the waves reaching for a cross, meant to symbolize Christian welcoming of neighbor and assistance to those in difficulty.

The motto of his visit to Malta is a quote from the Acts of the Apostles – “They showed us extraordinary hospitality” – a reference to how the islanders welcomed St Paul.

The motto and logo are particularly significant since Malta, due to its proximity to North Africa, has been the preferred destination for many migrants fleeing war or poverty from Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia and other countries. ‘other countries. Their plight is just a small part of a wave of global migration that has turned into the biggest humanitarian crisis of the 21st century. Tackling the plight of migrants has been a priority for Francis since his election as pope in March 2013.

The issue of migration has long been a controversial topic in Malta. A significant number of Maltese have opposed accepting more migrants from Libya. The government has favored a policy of returning migrants to Libya while calling on the European Union to set up a burden-sharing mechanism. (Such a scheme has still not been implemented.) There have also been tensions between Malta and Italy over who should take responsibility for migrants stranded at sea. Many have drowned trying to make the crossing on rickety boats from North Africa organized by smugglers. However, the Maltese have been very open to the idea of ​​welcoming refugees from Ukraine, and many citizens have offered rooms in their homes.

Before leaving the John XXIII Peace Laboratory, Francis will welcome some 200 migrants from many countries. Finally, on Sunday evening, he will be taken to the airport to board the Air Malta plane which will take him back to Rome.

He is expected to hold a press conference on the approximately 90-minute return flight to Rome. Meanwhile, rumor has it that he may announce that he has accepted the Polish president’s invitation to visit the country. The President invited Francis on April 1 to meet many of the two million refugees from Ukraine to whom the homeland of Saint John Paul II gave refuge, and to greet and thank the Polish people for their extraordinary hospitality at this time of grave crisis. in Europe.

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