The Maltese people have been ecstatic in their welcome for Pope Benedict XVI with most of the Mediterranean island, it seems, turning out to greet him on the first day of his visit.
Speaking to reporters this evening, Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Holy See press office director, estimated crowd numbers to be around 100,000. “There were crowds in every town, every village, that we passed,” he noted. He also was struck by how well behaved they were and how few police were present, especially compared to papal trips to other countries.
Naturally, one of the first questions Fr. Lombardi was asked was whether the Holy Father will meet with clerical abuse victims. Fr. Lombardi repeated what he had already said, explaining that such meetings are “never pre-announced” but that as soon as they take place, the news is communicated. Today there were no such meetings.
The Pope alluded to the scandal only briefly and indirectly during his short flight from Rome to Malta this afternoon, referring to how the Church is “wounded by our sins,” but its gospel remains “the true force that purifies and heals.” A full transcript of his comments on the papal flight are attached below (unofficial translation).
Earlier this evening, the Pope prayed in the Grotto of St. Paul in Rabat. Afterwards, he was greeted with loud cheers and formally welcomed by the Archbishop of Malta, Msgr. Paul Cremona.
The archbishop began by describing the importance of the Grotto to the island.
“The Grotto of Saint Paul reminds us of the stay of the Apostle Paul on our island and also, according to tradition, of the place where he was imprisoned,” he said. “Our faith came not only from a shipwrecked Paul but also from an imprisoned Paul. The preaching of the Word came to us through Saint Paul, clothed in poverty, but reflected in the inner spiritual strength of him who preached it. This is also part of the inheritance of our Faith.”
The Holy Father looked particularly happy and relaxed after praying in the Grotto. Although his voice was a little hoarse and he appeared somewhat fatigued, he spoke of the importance of St. Paul’s shipwreck in showing the faithful how the Gospel can likewise break into a person’s life and change its direction (see full text below).
The Pope observed how Paul’s presence on the island has led to the Gospel taking “deep root” and bearing fruit not only among individuals and families, but also in Malta’s national identity.
He singled out missionaries and priests and religious who have followed in Paul’s footstep to spread the Gospel, and he called on parents, teachers and catechists to speak of their faith to others, particularly the young.
PAPAL FLIGHT PRESS CONFERENCE - MALTA
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Dear friends, His Holiness is back here with us for the first of five trips planned for this year. We are very happy to have him with us at the beginning of this journey because we can wish him well for the two anniversaries of these days, his birthday yesterday, and the other on Monday. The Holy Father received the questions that some of you presented and which express the expectations that many have at the beginning of the trip. He has prepared a brief reflection on the basis of your expectations. We will not follow the process of other trips, with questions and answers and questions and answers. The Holy Father will give us his synthetic remarks. Thank you, Holy Father, and have a good trip
POPE BENEDICT XVI
Dear friends, good evening! Let’s hope for a good journey, without this dark cloud that’s hanging over parts of Europe [a large cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland is causing havoc to Europe’s airspace and causing flight delays] .
So why this trip to Malta? The reasons are manifold. The first is St. Paul. It’s the end of the Pauline Year for the universal Church but Malta is celebrating 1950 years since his shipwreck and this is for me is an opportunity to once again bring to light the great figure of the Apostle of the Gentiles, with its own important message for today. I think we can summarize the essence of his journey with the words he himself said at the end of the letter Galatians: ‘Faith expressed in charity.’ This is something important also today, that faith, a relationship with God, transforms itself into charity.
But I also think that the reason for the shipwreck speaks to us. From the shipwreck, Malta was born in the faith. Likewise, we can think also of how shipwrecks in life can be God’s plan for us, and also be useful as new beginnings in our life.
The second reason: I am glad be in the midst of a living Church such as Malta which is fruitful in vocations also today, full of faith in the midst of our time, and responding to the challenges of our time. I know that Malta loves Christ, and loves his Church which is his body, even if this body is wounded by our sins, it still loves this Church and its gospel, which is the true force that purifies and heals.
The third point is that Malta is a place where waves of refugees arrive from Africa and knock on the doors of Europe. This is a great problem of our time, and naturally it can’t be resolved just by the island of Malta. All of us have to respond to this challenge, first of all so that people can live a dignified life in their own land, and on the other hand so that these refugees can also find space for a dignified life here. It means responding to a great challenge of our time, and Malta reminds us of these problems. It also reminds us, as you know, of the force of charity, which allows us to respond well to these challenges.
Thank you, Holiness, and have a good trip. We’ll accompany you with our work and our information.
Visit to the Grotto of Saint Paul, Rabat
17 April 2010
DISCOURSE OF POPE BENEDICT XVI
Dear Archbishop Cremona,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My pilgrimage to Malta has begun with a moment of silent prayer at the Grotto of Saint Paul, who first brought the faith to these islands. I have come in the footsteps of those countless pilgrims down the centuries who have prayed in this holy place, entrusting themselves, their families and the welfare of this nation to the intercession of the Apostle of the Gentiles. I rejoice to be at last in your midst and I greet all of you with great affection in the Lord!
Paul’s shipwreck and his three-month stay in Malta left an indelible mark upon the history of your country. His words to his companions prior to his arrival in Malta are recorded for us in the Acts of the Apostles and have been a special theme in your preparation for my visit. Those words – [“But we are to be stranded on some island”] (Acts 27:26). – in their original context are a summons to courage in the face of the unknown and to unfailing confidence in God’s mysterious providence. The castaways were, in fact, warmly welcomed by the Maltese people, following the lead given by Saint Publius. In God’s plan, Saint Paul thus became your father in the Christian faith. Thanks to his presence among you, the Gospel of Jesus Christ took deep root and bore fruit not only in the lives of individuals, families and communities, but also in the formation of Malta’s national identity and its vibrant and distinctive culture.
Paul’s apostolic labours also bore a rich harvest in the generations of preachers who followed in his footsteps, and particularly in the great number of priests and religious who imitated his missionary zeal by leaving Malta in order to bring the Gospel to distant shores. I am happy to have had the opportunity to meet so many of them today in this Church of Saint Paul, and to encourage them in their challenging and often heroic vocation. Dear missionaries: I thank all of you, in the name of the whole Church, for your witness to the Risen Lord and for your lives spent in the service of others. Your presence and activity in so many countries of the world brings honour to your country and testifies to an evangelical impulse deeply embedded in the Church in Malta. Let us ask the Lord to raise up many more men and women to carry forward the noble mission of proclaiming the Gospel and working for the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom in every land and people!
Saint Paul’s arrival in Malta was not planned. As we know, he was travelling to Rome when a violent storm arose and his ship ran aground on this island. 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; henceforth, for him, to live was Christ (cf. Phil 1:21); 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.
Today the same Gospel which Paul preached continues to summon the people of these islands to conversion, new life and a future of hope. Standing in your midst as the Successor of the Apostle Peter, I invite you to hear God’s word afresh, as your ancestors did, and to let it challenge your ways of thinking and the way you live your lives. From this holy place where the apostolic preaching first spread throughout these islands, I call upon each of you to take up the exciting challenge of the new evangelization. Live out your faith ever more fully with the members of your families, with your friends, in your neighbourhoods, in the workplace and in the whole fabric of Maltese society. In a particular way I urge parents, teachers and catechists to speak of your own living encounter with the Risen Jesus to others, especially the young people who are Malta’s future. “Faith is strengthened when it is given to others!” (cf. Redemptoris Missio, 2). Believe that your moments of faith assure an encounter with God, who in his mighty power touches human hearts. In this way, you will introduce the young to the beauty and richness of the Catholic faith, and offer them a sound catechesis, inviting them to ever more active participation in the sacramental life of the Church.
The world needs this witness! In the face of so many threats to the sacredness of human life, and to the dignity of marriage and the family, do not our contemporaries need to be constantly reminded of the grandeur of our dignity as God’s children and the sublime vocation we have received in Christ? Does not society need to reappropriate and defend those fundamental moral truths which remain the foundation of authentic freedom and genuine progress?
Just now, as I stood before this Grotto, I reflected on the great spiritual gift (cf. Rom 1:11) which Paul gave to Malta, and I prayed that you might keep unblemished the heritage bequeathed to you by the great Apostle. May the Lord confirm you and your families in the faith which works through love (cf. Gal 5:6), and make you joyful witnesses to the hope which never disappoints (cf. Rom 5:5). Christ is risen! He is truly risen! Alleluia!