By Robin Gomes
The announcement of the visit of Pope Francis to Malta in May this year has been received with enthusiasm by its archbishop, the government and the people.
The Holy See Press Office officially announced on Monday that the Pope has accepted the invitation of President George Vella of Malta, the authorities and the Catholic Church of the country and would visit Malta and Gozo on May 31, 2020.
The theme chosen for the papal visit is, “They showed us unusual kindness” (Acts 28, 2). It is accompanied by a logo depicting open hands from a ship reaching out to a Cross. Chapter 28 of the Acts of the Apostles recounts the adventures of St. Paul the Apostle, who on his way to Rome to face charges, was shipwrecked together with his sailing companions on the island of Malta.
Traditionally, St. Paul's Bay and St Paul's Island are believed to be the location of this shipwreck.
In a video message, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta spoke about the generosity with which Paul and his shipwrecked companions were received by the islanders.
“I would like to welcome His Holiness to the island of St. Paul and also thank him for the beautiful meditations he gave us in January of 2020, on this important passage from Scripture,” Archbishop Scicluna said.
The motto, he explained, is also “a reminder that we need to welcome each other, to forgive each other and to welcome migrants who knock on the shores of our islands, seeking a safe haven and human dignity”.
Despite being “a tall order for a small nation”, the archbishop said they will make use of the visit “to heal the wounds that have wounded our social fabric”.
They would also commit themselves to be a “safe haven” for Migrants in the Mediterranean. “Malat”, from which Malta derives its name, Archbishop Scicluna explained, meant safe haven in the culture and language of the ancient sea-faring Phoenician people.
“That is what we need to be in the name of Jesus Christ,” the archbishop said.
Not long after the Vatican announcement, President Vella announced the papal visit at the end of a Mass at the Church of St Paul's Shipwreck in the Maltese capital, Valletta.
Among those attending the Mass were Miriam Vella, the president’s wife, Jose Herrera, Secretary for Culture and Local Government who represented the Prime Minister, the opposition leader, the Mayor of Valletta and other dignitaries. Vella’s announcement was greeted with hearty applause.
The upcoming visit of Pope Francis will be the 4th papal visit to Malta. St. Pope John Paul II visited the Mediterranean island twice, in 1990 and 2001. Pope Benedict XVI visited Malta in 2010.
Prime Minister Robert Abela said that the Pope’s visit is a reminder that despite its small size, Malta still enjoys the respect of world leaders.
He noted that helping the community, tolerance and civil rights, which are issues close to the Pope’s heart, are also the values of the government.