The ‘luminous land’ of Malta awaits the arrival of Pope Francis
By Michele Raviart
Europe's southernmost country is preparing to welcome a Pope for the third time in its history. in its history. After St John Paul II, who came to the Republic of Malta in 1990 and 2001; and Benedict XVI, who made the journey in 2010, Pope Francis is now set to visit the archipelago on Saturday and Sunday. It’s a trip the Pope has been looking forward to. Previously planned for May 2020, the journey was postponed because of the pandemic; now, it will inevitably be marked by the war in Ukraine and the incessant flow of refugees fleeing the bombings.
At the source of the Gospel proclamation
Today more than ever, Malta – a “luminous land,” as Pope Francis described it at last Wednesday’s General Audience – is committed to “welcoming so many brothers and sisters seeking refuge.” The theme of hospitality is also symbolised by the journey's logo, which depicts hands outstretched towards others emerging from the boat on which St Paul was shipwrecked on the island more than two thousand years ago, on his way to Rome. “an opportunity to go to the wellsprings of the proclamation of the Gospel,” and for the Pope, “to know at first hand a Christian community with a lively history stretching back thousands of years.” The community has 408,000 baptised members, 85% of the total population of 478,000 in the island chain of Malta, Gozo and other smaller islands.
The programme for Saturday 2 April
Pope Francis will land at Malta's international airport on Saturday morning at around 10am and, after the welcome ceremony, will head to the Grand Master's Palace in Valletta. In what was once the seat of the Grand Masters of the Knights of St John, who built the building in 1571. There Pope Francis will meet the President of the Republic of Malta, George William Vella, and then Prime Minister, Robert Abela, who has just been re-elected to lead the country's government. The speech in the Great Council Hall to the Maltese authorities and the diplomatic corps will close the first part of the day which, after a stop at the Apostolic Nunciature, will continue with a visit to the Marian shrine of Ta' Pinu on the “sister island” of Gozo. In the large square in front of the shrine, Malta's most important place of pilgrimage, the Pope will preside over a prayer meeting with the faithful, together with Maltese Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, who will be in the papal retinue, along with Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, and Bishop Anton Teuma of Gozo.
Sunday visit to the Grotto of St Paul and Mass in Floriana
On the morning of Sunday 3 April Francis will meet privately with members of the Society of Jesus and then, at around 8.30am, he will go to the Grotto of St Paul in Rabat. It was there, according to tradition, that the Apostle of the Gentiles landed after being shipwrecked in 60 A.D. – a decisive event for the Christianisation of the island. The Grotto had already been visited by St John Paul II in 1990 and later by Benedict XVI in 2010, on the occasion of the 1950th anniversary of the event. After lighting a votive lamp, Francis will say a prayer to St Paul and greet the 14 religious leaders who will be present, as well as a number of sick people assisted by the local Caritas organization. One of Malta's largest open spaces, the Piazzale dei Granai in Floriana – the city that extends beyond walls of Valletta – will later host the Holy Mass celebrated by the Pope at 10.15, followed by the recitation of the Angelus.
The welcome at the Peace Lab
“They showed us unusual kindness” is the motto of this 36th apostolic journey of Francis, which will conclude at around 6:15 pm with a visit to the "John XXIII Peace Lab" Migrant Centre in Hal Far, which hosts people from Somalia, Eritrea, and Sudan who embarked in Libya to cross the Mediterranean. It is a place where great educational work is carried out in the field of human rights, justice, solidarity, and medical assistance. About 200 migrants will meet the Pope in the structure's open-air theatre. The farewell ceremony at the airport is scheduled to take place at 6:15 pm, with the return to Rome expected at 7:40 pm.