Pope Francis prays and meets sick persons at St Paul’s Grotto
By Lisa Zengarini
After meeting privately with a group of Jesuits in the Nunciature, Pope Francis began his second day's Apostolic journey to Malta on Sunday with a visit to St. Paul’s Grotto, in Rabat, where he stopped to pray the Apostle, greeted religious leaders, and met a group of sick persons.
Tradition has that the Apostle stayed here three months after shipwrecking on the island on his way to Rome and preached, baptized and healed the sick sowing the seeds of Christianity in Malta.
The site, which is believed to have miraculous qualities, was also visited by Pope St. John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI during their Apostolic Journeys to the island country.
Upon his arrival at St. Paul’s Basilica where the grotto is located, Pope Francis was welcomed by the Archpriest Fr. Joseph Mizzi, and the Chapter of the Collegiate Church. He was accompanied amongst others by Archbishop Charles Jude Scicluna, of Malta.
Awaiting him was also a festive crowd of Maltese faithful who welcomed him with waving Vatican flags in the square outside the Basilica.
Prayer to St. Paul
The Holy Father descended into the grotto to pray before the statue of St Paul, which was donated to the church in 1748 by the Grandmaster of the Order of the Knights of St John (Order of Malta), who at the time owned the place.
After lighting a votive ship-shaped lamp he recited a short prayer to St. Paul that recalls the “humanity” and kindness of the Maltese people as they welcomed the Apostle to the Gentiles when he shored on the island.
The signing of the Book of Honor
At the closing of the prayer, the Holy Father signed the Book of Honor writing these words:
As he signed the Book of Honor he was greeted by the Archpriest of the Basilica with an engraved image of St. Paul
Meeting the sick
Pope Francis then walked through the Church of St. Publius, in the Basilica premises, where he greeted a group of 14 religious leaders, and subsequently entered the Basilica where he stopped to pray imploring the Lord to increase the faith of the Maltese people, and imparted his Blessing.
Before leaving the Basilica the Pope met a group of some 20 sick and vulnerable people assisted by the local Caritas,. He then departured on the car leading him to Floriana where he celebrated Mass.