On Saturday 2 April 2022, Pope Francis officially started its 36th Apostolic Voyage outside Italy to the Island of Malta. He arrived on our Island at 9.50 am aboard ITA Airways.
After being welcomed at the Malta International Airport by the President George William Vella and the Prime Minister, Robert Abela, he headed towards the President Palace in Valletta. There he met once again made a courtesy visit to the President of the Republic in the “Ambassadors’ Chamber” of the Grand Master’s Palace in Valletta as well as the Prime Minister in the “Pages’ Chamber” of the same Palace.
In his meeting with the Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps in the “Grand Council Chamber”, Pope Francis referred to Malta as the heart of the Mediterranean, because of its singular geographical setting. The Holy Father spoke of the history of our Island nation. He said:
For thousands of years, the interplay of historical events and the encounter of different peoples has made this island a centre of vitality and of culture, spirituality and beauty, a crossroads that has received and harmonized influences from many parts of the world. This variety of influences makes us think of the various winds that sweep this country. Not by chance, in the ancient maps of the Mediterranean, the compass rose, or “rose of winds” was often depicted near the island of Malta. I would like to borrow that image of the rose of winds, which describes the winds in terms of the four cardinal points of the compass, to describe four fundamental influences for the social and political life of this country.
Pope Francis laid a heavy emphasis on national unity and the consolidation of the common roots is the safeguard for real peace in Maltese society. He said: Peace follows unity and rises up from it. This reminds us of the importance of working together, of preferring cohesion to division, and of strengthening the shared roots and values that have forged Maltese society in its uniqueness. Furthermore, the Pope also said that social cohesion is possible within the Maltese society if law and legality are respected. Without these the reinforcing of a sense of belonging is not enough. He noted that honesty, justice, a sense of duty and transparency are the essential pillars of a mature civil society. May your commitment to eliminate illegality and corruption be strong, like the north wind that sweeps the coasts of this country. May you always cultivate legality and transparency, which will enable the eradication of corruption and criminality, neither of which acts openly and in broad daylight.
Referring to the etymology of the word Malta, from the Phoenician language, as safe harbor, Pope Francis said that the migration issue is to be contextualised within a broader interplay of time and space. The Holy Father went on by saying that the phenomenon is far from being a temporary situation. It is rather a sign of our times. He said:
It brings with it the burden of past injustice, exploitation, climatic changes and tragic conflicts, whose effects are now making themselves felt. From the poor and densely populated south, great numbers of people are moving to the wealthy north: this is a fact, and it cannot be ignored by adopting an anachronistic isolationism, which will not produce prosperity and integration.
Migration brings more migration and a wider response for it is badly needed. Pope Francis said: From the standpoint of space, the growing migration emergency – here we can think of the refugees from war-torn Ukraine – calls for a broad-based and shared response. Some countries cannot respond to the entire problem, while others remain indifferent onlookers! Civilized countries cannot approve for their own interest sordid agreements with criminals who enslave other human beings.
Pope Francis also pointed out that the Mediterranean needs co-responsibility on the part of Europe, in order to become a new theatre of solidarity and not the harbinger of a tragic shipwreck of civilization. At this point of his speech the Holy Father contrasted the welcome which St Paul received with the treatment which the asylum seekers are receiving. He said: Today, when those who cross the Mediterranean in search of salvation are met with fear and the narrative of “invasion”, and safeguarding one’s own security at any price seems to be the primary goal, let us help one another not to view the migrant as a threat and not to yield to the temptation of raising drawbridges and erecting walls. In a strong emphasis to highlight the sacred human dignity of asylum seekers, Pope Francis said: Other people are not a virus from which we need to be protected, but persons to be accepted. Hence, the Pope expressed the following wish for Malta: May Malta, the heart of the Mediterranean, continue to foster the heartbeat of hope, care for life, acceptance of others, yearning for peace, with the help of the God whose name is peace.
Pope Francis took the opportunity to remind us, Maltese, to care for the environment. He said: In Malta, where the luminous beauty of the landscape alleviates difficulties, creation appears as the gift that, amid the trials of history and life, reminds us of the beauty of our life on earth. In this perspective he rightly alerted us against rapacious greed and avarice that destroy God’s beauty on our Islands. It must therefore be kept safe from rapacious greed, from avarice and from construction speculation, which compromises not only the landscape but the very future. That is why he insisted that the protection of the environment and the promotion of social justice prepare for the future, and are optimal ways to instill in young people a passion for a healthy politics and to shield them from the temptation to indifference and lack of commitment.
It is our hope that Pope Francis’ words are seriously taken and acted upon by the Maltese authorities so that Malta continues to offer to its inhabitants and visitors alike, its luminous beauty of the landscape. Such beauty gives us courage in our life problems and helps us be grateful to God for the beauty with which he embellished our beloved Islands of Malta and Gozo.