The announcement has been officially confirmed. Pope Francis will be the third consecutive Pontiff who will be visiting our beloved country, Malta and Gozo on Pentecost Sunday of May 31 2020. St. Pope John Paul II was the first Pope to visit Malta twice, that is in 1991 as well as in 2001. The last visit that Malta enjoyed having from a Pope goes back to 2010, exactly ten years ago, when Pope Benedict XVI came to visit us from Saturday 17 till Sunday 18 April 2010.
Upon the Holy See Press Office announcement that the Pope has accepted the invitation from the President of the Republic of Malta, George Vella, to visit the country, preparations have immediately started. In fact, in his video message release concerning this historic visit Malta’ archbishop, Msgr. Charles Scicluna, briefly commented on the meaning of Pope Francis’ visit.
He revealed that the theme chosen for this papal visit concentrated on what we find in the book of Acts regarding the Maltese moral character: “They showed us unusual kindness” (Acts 28, 2). He then said that this quote is accompanied by a logo which depicts open hands from a ship reaching out to a Cross. As we know Chapter 28 from the book of Acts talks about St. Paul the Apostle’s adventures, particularly about his dramatic shipwreck with his sailing companions on our Island of Malta before finally getting to Rome to face charges before Caesar himself. Centuries-old tradition details that St. Paul’s Bay and St. Paul’s Island are the exact location where that famous and providential shipwreck actually took place.
Regarding the issue if the Melitae of the book of Acts is, in reality, our beloved Malta and not another Malta which a certain biblical scholar has hinted at, I gratefully provide the reasoning put forth by Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna during his speech when meeting the members of Christians Together in Malta during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, on Saturday 25 January 2020.
“As to whether the Melitae of the Book of Acts is our island or not, I always tell our friends that you do not go to Syracuse from Dalmatia, you go to Syracuse from Malta. So if you want to know whether it was Malta in the Mediterranean here, you read how the journey goes on. It is Malta Syracuse to north and then Regium, so it is not from Dalmatia because they would have gone to Brindisium. That is how I persuaded Cardinal Ratzinger that it was our Melitae and not the one in Dalmatia, with all due respect.”
Now, back to the video message. Malta’s Archbishop, Charles Scicluna, emphasized the generosity with which Paul and his shipwrecked companions were recieved by the islanders which Luke calls them barbaroi (βάρβαροι). He said: “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.” 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.” Notwithstanding being “a tall order for a small nation”, the archbishop assured they will make use of the visit “to heal the wounds that have wounded our social fabric.”
This point has also been emphasized in a pastoral letter written on 10 February 2020, the Solemnity of St. Paul’s Shipwreck, which dealt with the Apostolic Journey to Malta by His Holiness Pope Francis. In it, the three bishops who composed it, Archbishop Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, Malta’ Archbishop, Msgr. Mario Grech, Apostolic Administrator of Gozo, and, finally, Msgr. Joseph Galea-Curmi, Malta’s Auxiliary Bishop, noted that “in his short but meaningful visit to Malta, Pope Francis will celebrate and pray with the Maltese and Gozitan people. He will show us how, purified by the Spirit of God who cleanses us from our sins, we can live in true reconciliation together and treat each other with dignity and ‘unusual kindness.’”
During his interesting video clip about Pope Francis’ visit to Malta Archbishop Scicluna said that the Maltese would commit themselves to be a “safe haven” for Migrants in the Mediterranean. “Malat”, from which Malta derives its name, Archbishop Scicluna explicated, meant safe haven in the culture and language of the ancient sea-faring Phoenician people. Thus, the Archbishop said: “That is what we need to be in the name of Jesus Christ.” This reflection was also reflected in the Maltese Bishops’ pastoral letter upon the upcoming visit of the Pope when they said: “The Pope would also like to meet migrants during his visit among us, just as he did in other places he visited in the Mediterranean”.
Malta’s authorities and its people have shown great enthusiasm regarding the visit of Pope Francis in Malta. To begin with, Malta’s President, George Vella, announced the papal visit at the end of a Mass at the Church of St. Paul’s Shipwreck in the Maltese capital, Valletta. His announcement was met with a hearty applause. Then, Robert Abela, Malta’s Prime Minister, said that Pope Francis’ visit is a reminder that despite its physical size, Malta enjoys the respect of world leaders. He also said that his goverment shares the Pope’s values of helping the community, tolerance and civil rights.
The enthusiasm for Pope Francis’ visit can be seen in the following comments which some of the Maltese public themselves made regarding this extraordinary event in Malta’s history. A 70-year-old, Mary Rose Borg, said that the fact that the feast of St. Paul was chosen to make the big announcement – and reveal the date of the papal visit – was apt since “this nice and big news deserves a nice and big feast. The Pope’s visit reminds us of the time St. Paul came to Malta. He is coming to present God to us and we welcome him with open arms.”
Lydia Grima, 60, from Fleur de Lys said the news was welcome. “It’s a nice thing that we also get a visit from this Pope and, hopefully, it will do the country good,” she said. “I remember the two other Popes coming to Malta. There was a nice atmosphere, one of peace. The people like these things and we welcome him,” said Marianne Galea, 57, St Paul’s Bay.
Lucija Bugeja, 64, who travelled all the way from Xagħra Gozo to Valletta to attend the pontifical Mass on occasion of the feast of St Paul. “We are really happy that the Pope is coming. We came all the way from Gozo to attend the feast of St Paul’s celebrations and were glad to hear the announcement that he will be coming on May 31.”
One of the main English-language daily newspapers in Malta, The Times of Malta, commented on this extraordinary event when it said: “The Pope coming to Malta is a very nice thing as it means we will have God’s blessing.” Beautiful as this comment may be, this blessing, both for Malta and Gozo, will remain as long as we, as Maltese and non-Maltese alike who live on these Islands, as the Maltese Bishops said in their wise pastoral letter, protect human life in all its stages and work for a society wherein “integrity, honesty, truth, justice and social commitment, whilst passing on our faith to future generations” will be the order of the day.
“When the Pope visits our country, we would like him to recognise that for us who believe in Jesus Christ, every human life is precious and is to be embraced with love and tenderness – from conception and through all stages of life until natural death. We are called to give witness of the value of life especially with the weakest, the vulnerable, the suffering who are crying out for help, and those who are most at risk and whose lives are in peril.”
May Pope Francis harp on these values during his much-awaited speeches!