Malta Welcomes Pope Francis

Tomorrow, Saturday 2 April, Malta, my beloved island-state, welcomes the third pontiff to visit her shores. After welcoming St John Paul II in 1990 and 2001 and Pope Benedict XVI in the journey he made in 2010 in the 1950th anniversary of St Paul’s coming ashore Malta, now it is the turn of Pope Francis to come to visit us.

This 36th Apostolic Journey will surely be marked by the war that is raging on in Ukraine. On the other hand, the Pope is coming to us “in the footsteps of St Paul”.  He wants to be a missionary of God’s mercy which welcomes, caresses, forgives and restores. Interestingly enough, the logo of this visit shows hands uplifted towards the Cross as they emerge from a boat battling the waves. From our history as a nation, Malta and the Maltese, what it means to battle against the waves of foreign domination as well as the daily challenges for our faith we come across each single day.

The hands are receiving the good news of Christ preached to us Maltese by St Paul. Furthermore, they represent the welcome that we Maltese extend to Christ in our neighbour, and especially to the help that we have always given to those who are experiencing great difficulty. The boat reminds us of the dramatic narrative, taken from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, which details the Apostle Paul’s shipwreck on the island of Malta (see Acts 27:27-44) together with that impressive welcome that he and all those with him received from us Maltese. Thus, the motto of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Journey to Malta’s is “They showed us unusual kindness” (Acts 28:2). This visit’s logo selected by the bishops is designed by Matthew Urpani, a young doctor and graphic designer. This logo can solely be utilised with the authorisation of the Archbishop’s curia.

 In their pastoral letter for this Lent of the year 2022,  Monsignor Charles J. Scicluna, Malta’s Archbishop of Malta, Mgr. Anton Teuma,  Gozo’s Bishop and Mgr Joe Galea-Curmi, Malta’s Auxiliary Bishop, augured that Pope Francis’ visit would renew us Maltese and our children in the great gift of mercy. They encouraged their flock to give a loving warm welcome to the Pope when they wrote: Moved by a deep sense of humanity, our forefathers welcomed Paul and his companions “with unusual kindness”. Encouraged by our love and respect for our Father the Pope, let us do our best to welcome him with joy and eagerly await his message so that we too may be part of this “revolution of tenderness” (EG, 88).

Just two days before the start of the official visit of Pope Francis to our country, the Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Galea-Curmi, together with the Chairman of the Organizing Committee Aaron Zahra, addressed a news conference to provide substantial details on this Apostolic Journey, declaring that it is with great joy for us Maltese and Gozitans that after two years of announcing this trip, next Saturday we will welcome among us His Holiness Pope Francis. He thanked all those who are contributing to this visit, which should be very rewarding. The Bishop referred to the General Audience last Wednesday, when Pope Francis said that he was coming to Malta as a pilgrim in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul.

He urged all Maltese to enthusiastically welcome Pope Francis wherever he went, to make him a wonderful feast, to show him their genuine love, and to open their ears and hearts to his message. “When the Pope speaks, he always knows how to convey a message that really touches our lives. We are confident that what he will tell us in his speeches and homilies will help us live the human values which build us as a society, to help us make the right choices, and to live as brothers and sisters, children of the same Father.”

Pope Francis made the following heartfelt appeal at the end of his catechesis of Wednesday 30 March 2022:

Dear brothers and sisters, next Saturday and Sunday I will go to Malta. In that luminous land I shall be a pilgrim in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul, who was welcomed there with great humanity after being shipwrecked at sea on his way to Rome. This Apostolic Journey will therefore be an opportunity to go to the wellsprings of the proclamation of the Gospel, to know at first hand a Christian community with a lively history stretching back thousands of years, and to meet the inhabitants of a country that lies at the center of the Mediterranean and in the south of the European continent, which today is increasingly engaged in welcoming so many brothers and sisters seeking refuge. From now on I greet all of you Maltese from the bottom of my heart: have a good day. I thank all those who have worked to prepare this visit and I ask every one of you to accompany me in prayer. Thank you!

Pope Francis will land at Malta’s international airport on Saturday 2 April 2022 morning, at around 10am. Following the welcome ceremony, he will head directly to the Grand Master’s Palace in Valletta where he will meet the President of the Republic of Malta, George William Vella, and then Prime Minister, Robert Abela, our re-elected Prime Minister. Then, Pope Francis will be addressing the Maltese authorities and the diplomatic corps in the Great Council Hall to the Maltese authorities and the diplomatic corps. Following a stop at the Apostolic Nunciature, the Holy Father will sail to the “sister island” of Gozo to preside over a prayer meeting with the faithful together with the Maltese Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, who will be in the papal entourage, together with Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, and Bishop Anton Teuma of Gozo.

On Sunday 3 April 2022, the second and last day of his visit, will start with a private meeting with the members of the Society of Jesus at the Apostolic Nunciature, followed by a visit to the Grotto of St Paul in Rabat at 8.30 am. Tradition has it that this was the location wherein the Apostle of the Gentiles landed after being shipwrecked in 60 A.D. This was certainly a crucial moment for the Christianisation of the island. This famous Grotto had previously been visited by St John Paul II in 1990 and subsequently by Benedict XVI in 2010, on the occasion of the 1950th anniversary of the event. After lighting a votive lamp, the Holy Father will pray a prayer to St Paul and greet the 14 religious leaders who will be present, together with a number of sick people assisted by the Malta Caritas organization. After that the Pope will go to the “Granaries” of Floriana to celebrate Holy Mass at 10.15 followed by the prayer of the Angelus.

Pope Francis’ 36th apostolic journey to Malta will end by 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. Thanks to the sterling work of the 91-year-old Franciscan Fr Dionysius Mintoff OFM and his collaborators, John XXIII Peace Lab is a place where great educational work is being done in the field of human rights, justice, solidarity, and medical assistance. Around 200 migrants will meet the Pope in the structure’s open-air theatre. At 6.15 pm, the farewell ceremony at the airport is scheduled to occur with the eventual return to Rome at 7:40 pm, the expected time.

Pope Francis, Malta is waiting for your visit! Merħba bik! Welcome!

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.