The “luminous land” of Malta awaits the arrival of Pope Francis

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There are only a few hours left before the start of Pope Francis’ 36th Apostolic Journey, a two-day trip taking place on Saturday and Sunday. Welcome and faith are the themes of this visit “in the footsteps of Saint Paul”, while at the same time the trip will inevitably be marked by the war in Ukraine.

By Michele Raviart

Europe’s southernmost country is preparing to welcome a pope for the third time in its history. in its history. After Saint John Paul II, who came to the Republic of Malta in 1990 and 2001; and Benedict XVI, who made the trip in 2010, Pope Francis must now visit the archipelago on Saturday and Sunday. It was a trip that the pope was looking forward to. Previously scheduled for May 2020, the trip was postponed due to the pandemic; henceforth, it will inevitably be marked by the war in Ukraine and the incessant flow of refugees fleeing the bombardments.

At the source of the proclamation of the Gospel

Now more than ever, Malta – a “bright land”, as Pope Francis described it during last Wednesday’s general audience – is committed to “welcoming so many brothers and sisters seeking refuge”. The theme of hospitality is also symbolized by the logo of the voyage, which depicts hands reaching out to others emerging from the boat on which Saint Paul was shipwrecked on the island more than two thousand years ago, on his way to Rome. “an opportunity to go to the sources of the proclamation of the Gospel”, and for the pope, “to know firsthand a Christian community with a living history that goes back thousands of years”. The community has 408,000 baptized members, 85% of the total population of 478,000 in the island chain of Malta, Gozo and other smaller islands.

The program for Saturday April 2

Pope Francis will land at Malta International Airport on Saturday morning around 10 a.m. and, after the welcoming 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 constructed the building in 1571. Pope Francis will meet there the President of the Republic of Malta, George William Vella, then the Prime Minister, Robert Abela, who has just been re-elected as head of the country’s government. The speech in the Great Hall of the Council 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 sanctuary, the most important place of pilgrimage in Malta, the pope will preside over a prayer meeting with the faithful, with the Maltese cardinal Mario Grech, general secretary of the synod of bishops, who will be next , with Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta and Bishop Anton Teuma of Gozo.

Sunday visit to the Grotto of Saint Paul and mass in Floriana

On the morning of Sunday April 3, Francis will meet privately with members of the Society of Jesus and then, around 8:30 a.m., he will go to the Grotto of Saint Paul in Rabat. It is here, according to tradition, that the Apostle of the Gentiles landed after being shipwrecked in 60 AD – a decisive event for the Christianization of the island. The Grotto had already been visited by Saint John Paul II in 1990 and then 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 Saint Paul and greet the 14 religious leaders who will be present, as well as a number of sick people assisted by the local Caritas. One of Malta’s largest open spaces, the Piazzale dei Granai in Floriana – the town that stretches beyond the walls of Valletta – will later host the Holy Mass celebrated by the Pope at 10.15am, followed by the recitation of the Angelus.

Welcome to the Peace Lab

“They have shown us extraordinary kindness”, is the motto of this 36th apostolic journey of Francis, which will conclude around 6:15 p.m. with a visit to the Migrant Center “John XXIII Peace Lab” in Hal Far, which hosts people from Somalia, Eritrea, and Sudan who embarked in Libya to cross the Mediterranean. It is a place where a great work of education 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 theater. The farewell ceremony at the airport is scheduled for 6:15 p.m., with the return to Rome scheduled for 7:40 p.m.

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