Statue of St. Paul in his Grotto in Rabat, Malta Statue of St. Paul in his Grotto in Rabat, Malta 

Maltese Christians ‘holding fast to St. Paul's faith’ as Pope visits

As Malta welcomes Pope Francis, Fr. Joseph Mizzi, the parish priest of the Basilica of St. Paul, urges Maltese Christians to open their hearts to receive the Pope’s message of welcoming toward people on the margins of society.

By Devin Watkins

Maltese Catholics make up over 85 percent of the island nation’s population, though only around half of them actively practice their faith.

As Pope Francis makes his Apostolic Journey to Malta on Saturday and Sunday, the priest in charge of the Basilica of St. Paul in Rabat, Fr. Joseph Mizzi, says he hopes the papal visit will remind the Maltese of the ancient roots of their faith.

The Apostle to the Gentiles, St. Paul, was shipwrecked on the island as he journeyed toward Rome, and he stayed in what is now known as St. Paul’s Grotto for around three months, according to the Acts of the Apostles (ch.28).

Roots of faith in St. Paul’s preaching

The author of the Acts said the Maltese offered St. Paul and his companions “extraordinary hospitality”, a phrase reflected in the motto for Pope Francis’ visit: “They showed us unusual kindness.”

Fr. Mizzi recalled the biblical account of St. Paul healing the father of Publius, who was the “chief of the island” in his role as the Roman governor of the island.

A billboard prepares the Maltese for the Pope's arrival
A billboard prepares the Maltese for the Pope's arrival

Speaking to Vatican News’ Michele Raviart, Fr. Mizzi even stopped the interview to stress the importance of St. Paul’s healing of Publius’ father and other Maltese inhabitants.

“We should not forget this important point. St. Paul cured the father of Publius and he cured the sick people of Malta,” said Fr. Mizzi.

St. Paul, he added, also preached the Word of God, celebrated the first Eucharist in Malta, and baptized the first Christians, including the Roman governor St. Publius, who would later become the first Bishop of the island.

“In a way, this small community would continue to grow and mature until our days. What Paul started in the year 60 AD continued to grow throughout the ages until today. It is the same faith which Paul gave to the Maltese and which we now still hold and pass on to the future generations.”

Faithful apostles of Christ

As parish priest of the Basilica of St. Paul, Fr. Mizzi also cares for St. Paul’s Grotto, and says the place is a special shrine for the Maltese, since it links them to early Christian times.

He recalled that Pope St. John Paul II visited the Grotto in 1990, and Benedict XVI in 2010, saying the soon-to-be-three papal visits to the shrine show that it is a special place, because “everything began from here.”

Fr. Mizzi said the Church in Malta must continue in the mission left by St. Paul, which is “to be faithful apostles of Christ and good missionaries to His people.”

As Paul wrote letters to his flock, so Christians must nowadays use social media to reach those who are far from the Church and to pass on the faith.

Pope’s message of mercy for marginalized

Beyond preparing the physical embellishments of Malta for the Pope’s arrival, Maltese Christians must prepare their hearts to welcome the Pope’s message, said Fr. Mizzi.

“What we should do is prepare our hearts, to open our hearts to the Pope’s visit, to welcome his words and message, which is above all a message of mercy and welcome to all the people, especially those who are on the margins of society.”

Listen to the full interview
01 April 2022, 18:48