Pope visits Malta

Pope Benedict arrived in Malta yesterday, for a short visit. At a press conference, he explained that he was making the trip to mark the 1,950th anniversary of St Paul's arrival on the island; to celebrate the richness of vocations there, and to support the people of Malta who are currently receiving large numbers of refugees arriving from Africa on their way to mainland Europe.
Following a welcome speech by president George Abela,  on Saturday the Pope highlighted how Malta "has been at the crossroads of many of the great events and cultural exchanges in European and Mediterranean history, right up to our own times. ... To these shores, then, in the mysterious designs of God, the Gospel was brought by St. Paul and the early followers of Christ. Their missionary work has borne much fruit over the centuries, contributing in innumerable ways to shaping Malta's rich and noble culture".

He praised the way the Maltese people "continue to play a valuable role in the ongoing debates on European identity, culture and policy. At the same time, I am pleased to note your Government's commitment to humanitarian projects further afield, especially in Africa. It is greatly to be hoped that this will serve to promote the welfare of those less fortunate than yourselves, as an expression of genuine Christian charity.

"Malta has much to contribute to questions as diverse as tolerance, reciprocity, immigration, and other issues crucial to the future of this continent. Your nation should continue to stand up for the indissolubility of marriage as a natural institution as well as a sacramental one, and for the true nature of the family, just as it does for the sacredness of human life from conception to natural death and for the proper respect owed to religious freedom in ways that bring authentic integral development to individuals and society".

After a visit to the president of the Republic of Malta at the Grand Masters' Palace in Valletta, the Holy Father travelled to the church of St.Paul at Rabat where he was greeted by 250 missionaries.

Having prayed for a few minutes before the Blessed Sacrament, the Pope descended the steps that lead into the Cave of St Paul, which is considered to be the cornerstone of the Church in Malta because, according to tradition, the Apostle preached there for three months following his shipwreck on the island. In the Middle Ages a cemetery and various chapels were raised around the site.

"St Paul's arrival in Malta was not planned", the Holy Father said. "Sailors can map a journey, but God, in His wisdom and providence, charts a course of His own. Paul, who dramatically encountered the Risen Lord while on the road to Damascus, knew this well. The course of his life was suddenly changed" and "his every thought and action was directed to proclaiming the mystery of the Cross and its message of God's reconciling love.

"That same word, the word of the Gospel, still has the power to break into our lives and to change their course", Benedict XVI added. "Today the same Gospel which Paul preached continues to summon the people of these islands to conversion, new life and a future of hope".

At 10am today the Pope celebrated Mass at the Floriana Granaries in Malta, the island's largest square before a congregation of more than 10,000 people.

In his homily the Holy Father encouraged the faithful to trust in God and follow His teachings in order to gather an abundant harvest.

"Not everything that today's world proposes is worthy of acceptance by the people of Malta", he said. "Many voices try to persuade us to put aside our faith in God and His Church, and to choose for ourselves the values and beliefs by which to live. They tell us we have no need of God or the Church. If we are tempted to believe them, we should recall the incident in today's Gospel" of the miraculous catch of fish. "When Jesus appeared on the shore, He directed them to a catch so great that they could scarcely haul it in".

Commenting on the first reading of today's Mass, recounting St Paul's shipwreck on the shores of Malta "and his warm reception by the people of these islands", the Pope highlighted how the crew of the ship were forced to throw the cargo overboard, as the Apostle "urged them to place their trust in God alone while the ship was tossed to and fro upon the waves. We too must place our trust in Him alone.

"It is tempting to think that today's advanced technology can answer all our needs and save us from all the perils and dangers that beset us", he added. "But it is not so. At every moment of our lives we depend entirely on God, in Whom we live and move and have our being. Only He can protect us from harm, only He can guide us through the storms of life, only He can bring us to a safe haven, as He did for Paul and his companions adrift off the coast of Malta".

"It is our relationship with the Lord that provides the key to our happiness and our human fulfilment", said the Pope, noting how God "calls us to a relationship of love. ... It is our love for the Lord that must inform every aspect of our preaching and teaching, our celebration of the Sacraments, and our care for the people of God. It is our love for the Lord that moves us to love those whom He loves, and to accept gladly the task of
communicating His love to those we serve".

"In every area of our lives we need the help of God's grace. With Him, we can do all things: without Him we can do nothing", said Benedict XVI.

He then encouraged the faithful to "preserve the faith and values transmitted to you by your father the Apostle St Paul. Continue to explore the richness and depth of Paul's gift to you and be sure to hand it on not only to your children, but to all those you encounter today. No visitor to Malta could fail to be impressed by the devotion of your people, the vibrant faith manifested in your feast-day celebrations, the beauty of your churches and shrines. But that gift needs to be shared with others, it needs to be articulated".

Going on then to refer to Malta's first canonised saint, Dun Gorg Preca, the Pope highlighted "his tireless work of catechesis, inspiring young and old with a love for Christian doctrine and a deep devotion to the Incarnate Word of God". This "set an example that I urge you to maintain", he told his audience.

In closing his homily, the Pope addressed some words to members of the clergy present at the celebration, in the context of the current Year for Priests. "Dun Gorg was a priest of remarkable humility, goodness, meekness and generosity, deeply devoted to prayer and with a passion for communicating the truths of the Gospel. Let him serve as a model and an inspiration for you".

"Remember, too, the question that the Risen Lord put three times to Peter: 'Do you love me?' That is the question He asks each of you. Do you love Him? Do you wish to serve Him through the gift of your whole lives? Do you long to bring others to know and love Him? With Peter, have the courage to answer, 'Yes, Lord, you know I love you', and accept with grateful hearts the beautiful task He has assigned you. The mission entrusted to priests is truly a service to joy, to God's joy which longs to break into the world".

Pope Benedict is expected to meet with a number of organisations, clergy and some abuse victims during his stay.

Source: VIS

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