Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As you know, last Saturday and Sunday I made an Apostolic Journey to
Malta on which I would like to reflect briefly today. The occasion of my
Pastoral Visit was the 1,950th anniversary of St Paul's shipwreck off
the coast of the Maltese Archipelago and his stay in those islands for
about three months. The event can be dated to about the year AD 60 and
is recounted with a wealth of detail in the Book of the Acts of the
Apostles (chapters 27-28).
Like St Paul, I too experienced the warm welcome of the Maltese
and for this reason once again express my deep and cordial gratitude to
the President of the Republic, to the Government and to the other State
Authorities. I also extend my fraternal thanks to the Country's Bishops,
together with all those who collaborated in organizing this festive
meeting of the Successor of Peter and the Maltese People.
The history of this People, almost 2,000 years old, is inseparable
from the Catholic faith that characterizes its culture and traditions.
It is said that there are at least 365 churches in Malta, "one for each
day of the year", a visible sign of this profound faith!
It all began with that shipwreck: after drifting for 14 days, driven
by the winds, the ship that was carrying the Apostle Paul and many
others to Rome ran aground in the shallows off the Island of Malta.
Thus, after the very cordial meeting with the President of the
Republic in Valetta, the capital
beautifully framed by the joyful greeting of so many boys and girls
went on pilgrimage straightaway to the so-called "Grotto of St Paul",
near Rabat, for an intense moment of prayer.
I was also able to greet there a large group of Maltese missionaries.
To think of that small archipelago in the middle of the Mediterranean
and of how the seed of the Gospel got there, gives rise to a great sense
of wonder at the mysterious designs of divine Providence: it comes
naturally to thank the Lord and also St Paul who, in the midst of that
violent storm, kept his trust and hope and communicated them to his
companions on the voyage.
From that shipwreck, or rather from Paul's subsequent stay in Malta,
a fervent and solid Christian community came into being. After 2,000
years it is still faithful to the Gospel and strives to combine it with
the complex questions of the contemporary age.
This of course is not easy, nor must it be taken for granted, but the
Maltese People know how to find in the Christian outlook responses to
the new challenges. For example, one sign of this is the fact that they
have kept intact their profound respect for unborn life and for the
sacredness of marriage, opting to refrain from introducing abortion and
divorce into the Country's legislation.
My journey therefore aimed to strengthen in the faith the Church in
Malta, a very vivid reality, well structured and present on the
territories of Malta and of Gozo. The whole of this community met in
Floriana, in Granaries Square, in front of the Church of St Publius
where I celebrated Holy Mass with a very fervent participation. It was a
cause of joy and comfort to me to feel the special warmth of that people
which gives the feeling of a large family, bound together by faith and a
Christian approach to life.
After the celebration I wanted to meet several of the victims of
abuse by members of the clergy. I shared in their suffering and with
emotion, I prayed with them, assuring them of the Church's action.
Although Malta gives the feeling of a large family, we should not
think, because of its geographical location that it is a society
"isolated" from the world. This is not how it is, as we see, for
example, from the contacts that Malta entertains with various countries
and from the fact that Maltese priests are present in many nations.
Indeed, the families and parishes of Malta have been able to
inculcate in many young people the sense of God and of the Church, so
that many of them have responded generously to Jesus' call and have
become priests. A large number of these priests have embraced the
missionary commitment ad gentes in distant lands, heirs of the
apostolic spirit that impelled St Paul to take the Gospel to places
where it was not yet known.
This is an aspect I willingly reasserted, namely, that "faith is
strengthened when it is given to others" (Encyclical Redemptoris
Missio, n. 2). Malta developed from the offshoot of this
faith and is now open to various economic, social and cultural realities
to which it makes a valuable contribution.
It is clear that down the centuries Malta often had to defend itself
and this can be seen from its fortifications. The strategic position of
the small archipelago obviously attracted the attention of various
political and military powers. Yet the deepest vocation of Malta is the
Christian vocation, in other words the universal vocation to peace! The
famous Maltese cross, which everyone associates with that nation, has
frequently fluttered on flags amidst conflicts and contests but thanks
be to God it never lost its authentic, perennial meaning. It is a sign
of love and reconciliation, and this is the true vocation of peoples who
welcome and embrace the Christian message!
A natural crossroads, Malta is located on a central migration route.
Men and women, as St Paul once did, land on the coasts of Malta,
sometimes driven by very harsh living conditions, violence and
persecution. This naturally entails complex humanitarian, political and
legal problems whose solution is not easy but must be sought with
perseverance and tenacity, organizing interventions at the international
It would be good to do this in all nations whose Constitutional
Charters and cultures are rooted in Christian values.
The challenge of combining our contemporary complexity with the
perennial validity of the Gospel is fascinating to all, but especially
to the young. The new generations, in fact, are strongly aware of this
and that is why I wanted a youth meeting in Malta, despite the brevity
of my Visit.
It was a moment of profound and intense exchanges, rendered even more
beautiful by the environment in which it took place
the Port of Valletta
and by the enthusiasm of the young people. I could not but remind them
of the youthful experience of St Paul: an extraordinary experience,
unique yet able to speak to the new generations of every epoch, because
of that radical transformation which followed his encounter with the
I therefore looked at the young people of Malta as potential heirs of
the spiritual adventure of St Paul, called, like him, to discover the
beauty of God's love, given to us in Jesus Christ; to embrace the
mystery of his Cross; to win, despite trials and tribulations, not to
fear the "storms" of life, nor shipwreck, because God's plan of love is
greater even than storms and shipwreck.
Dear friends, this, to sum up, was the Message that I took to Malta.
However, as I mentioned, I myself received so much from the Church there
and from that people blessed by God which could effectively collaborate
with his grace.
Through the intercession of the Apostle Paul, of St George Preca, a
priest and the first Maltese Saint, and of the Virgin Mary whom the
faithful of Malta and Gozo venerate with such deep devotion, may Malta
always advance in peace and in prosperity.