Catholic World News

Christian identity, immigration are themes for Pope's weekend trip to Malta

April 19, 2010

During a weekend trip to Malta, Pope Benedict XVI emphasized the deep Christian roots of the island nation and the role that Malta plays as "a place where waves of refugees arrive from Africa and knock on the doors of Europe."

During his visit to Malta, April 17-18, the Pope did not directly mention the sex-abuse scandal that has rocked the Church in Europe, except during a private meeting with abuse victims. (See the separate CWN headline story on that meeting.) During an informal session with journalists on the flight to Malta he did make what appeared to be an indirect reference to the controversy, saying that "the shipwrecks of life can be part of God's project for us, and be useful for a new beginning to our lives."

The papal visit coincided with celebrations marking the 1950th anniversary of St. Paul's shipwreck on Malta. The Pope mentioned that occasion repeatedly during his public appearances over the weekend, stressing how unexpected encounters can further the spread of the Gospel.

That message took on an ironic tone during the visit, as dust clouds over Europe, caused by a volcanic eruption in Iceland, raised questions as to whether the Pope's plane would be able to make its scheduled return flight to Rome on Sunday night. The papal plane did return without major delay, although many journalists from other countries who had accompanied the papal flight found themselves unable to leave Rome after the trip.

When he arrived in Malta on April 18, beginning the 14th foreign trip of his pontificate, Pope Benedict was met by President George Abela. The Pope offered his praise for Malta's political leadership, noting in particular "your government's commitment to humanitarian projects further afield, especially in Africa." During his trip to returned to the theme of immigration, arguing that Europe must find ways to accommodate the influx of refugees.

The Pope also cautioned the people of Malta-- a heavily Catholic nation-- against uncritical acceptance of the world's prevailing secular ideologies. "Not everything that today's world proposes is worthy of acceptance by the people of Malta," he said in his homily during an outdoor Mass in the country's largest public square.

The Holy Father paid a visit to the Grotto of St. Paul, where the Apostle lived and preached after being shipwrecked. He also held a meeting with the young people of Malta, exhorting them to imitate St. Paul and his zeal for the Gospel: his "burning desire to carry the news of that love to the ends of the earth."

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