Pope Benedict XVI’s foreign visits this year appear to be taking shape, with the Vatican yesterday publishing details of his forthcoming visit to Malta and media reports that preparations for his trips to Cyprus and Britain are proceeding well.
The program for his April 17th-18th apostolic voyage to Malta will include a visit St. Paul’s Grotto in Rabat, a large open-air Mass, and an arrival by boat to greet young people in the Maltese capital, Valetta. The main purpose of the visit is to mark the 1950th anniversary since St. Paul was shipwrecked off the coast of the archipelago, which according to tradition took place in 60 A.D.
Also during the visit, the Pope will celebrate Mass in Floriana, a town near the capital, have lunch with the bishops of Malta and then – similar to the World Youth Days in Cologne and Sydney – he will board a boat to enter Valetta’s Waterfront to give an address to young people.
Benedict XVI’s visit will be the third papal trip to Malta. John Paul II was the first pontiff to visit the Mediterranean island in May 1990, and returned there in 2001. Of its 410,000 inhabitants, 98 percent of the country’s population is Catholic.
L’Osservatore Romano has reported that in recent days the Pope sent a letter to President George Abela to thank him for the invitation to visit the country. According to the letter, published by the Times of Malta, Benedict XVI said he “cannot wait” to join the Maltese people in marking “the important anniversary” of St. Paul.
Meanwhile, preparations are proceeding well for the Holy Father’s visit to Cyprus at the beginning of June. The main purpose of his visit will be to present bishops of the Middle East with the Instrumentum laboris, or working document, of the Synod on the Middle East, due to be held next October in the Vatican.
According to Father Umberto Barato, Vicar General for Cyprus of the Latin Patriarchate, Maronite and Latin Catholics on the Mediterranean island are working hard to coordinate the visit. The island has very few Catholics (most of its Christians are Orthodox) but Father Barato told the Franciscan website Terrasanta.net that the Catholic Church in Cyprus “is accepted, recognized and esteemed for its work of apostolate and education” and that the Pope’s visit will “certainly be a privileged occasion” for Catholics and Orthodox to strengthen relations.
Some have speculated that the visit may be the occasion for the Pope to meet Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, but there have been no concrete indications so far, either from the Vatican or from the Moscow patriarchate, that any meeting will take place there.
Meanwhile, it’s being reported that the Pope will begin his UK trip later this year in Scotland rather than England. As Queen Elizabeth will be resting at Balmoral castle, her summer retreat, when the Pope visits, organisers believed it most practical that the Holy Father meet the Queen nearby rather than have her come down to London for the welcoming ceremony. Their meeting is expected to take place at Holyrood Palace, another Scottish residence of the British monarch, according to an article in Britain’s Daily Mirror.
Benedict XVI is then expected to celebrate an open-air Mass in Glasgow before flying to London and visiting Birmingham where many believe he will preside over the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman. However, it’s no longer clear that he will give a speech to Oxford University, contrary to earlier reports, although a keynote speech in London’s Westminster Hall is still believed to be a strong possibility.
Also this year, the Pope will be visiting Portugal, from May 11th to 14th, where he is expected to celebrate Mass at the shrine of Fatima.