Weekly General Audience April 21, 2010
During his general audience on April 21, Pope Benedict XVI recalled his recent visit to Malta. Thanking the Church and civil authorities for their efforts to facilitate his visit, he also thanked God for the abundant fruits of faith, holiness and missionary zeal that St. Paul brought to the islands of Malta.
The Christian vision, the Holy Father pointed out, is deeply rooted in the life and culture of Malta. The Pope challenged the island nation’s young people to look to St. Paul’s spiritual journey as a model for their own, to trust that God’s loving plan is more powerful than any storm or shipwreck along the way.
Dear brothers and sisters,
As you know, last Saturday and Sunday I made an apostolic visit to Malta. Today, I would like to briefly reflect on that trip.
The occasion for my pastoral visit was the 1,950th anniversary of the apostle Paul’s shipwreck on the shores of the archipelago of Malta and his nearly three-month stay on those islands. This event, which took place around the year 60, is recounted in great detail in the Acts of the Apostles (Chapters 27-28).
Like St. Paul, I, too, experienced a warm welcome from the Maltese people — a truly extraordinary welcome — and, because of this, I once again express my sincere and heartfelt gratitude to the president of the republic, to the government and to the other state authorities. I express my fraternal gratitude to the bishops of that country, along with all those who collaborated in preparing this festive encounter between the Successor of Peter and the people of Malta. For almost 2,000 years, the history of that people has been inseparable from the Catholic faith, which has molded their culture and traditions. It is said that there are 365 churches in Malta, “one for each day of the year,” a visible sign of their deep faith!
St. Paul’s Adventure
It all began with that shipwreck. After drifting for 14 days, driven by the winds, the ship that was carrying the apostle Paul and many other people to Rome ran aground on a sandbank just off the isle of Malta. That is why, after the very cordial meeting with the president of the republic in the capital, Valletta — which took place within the beautiful setting of many boys and girls joyfully greeting me — I immediately went on pilgrimage to the so-called Grotto of St. Paul near Rabat for a moment of intense prayer. There, I was also able to greet a large group of Maltese missionaries.
Thinking about this small archipelago in the center of the Mediterranean and how the seed of the Gospel made its way there inspires a sense of great wonder for the mysterious plans of divine Providence and gives rise to spontaneous gratitude to the Lord and also to St. Paul, who, in the midst of that violent storm, maintained his confidence and hope, which he was also able to pass on to his fellow travelers.
Because of that shipwreck, or rather from Paul’s subsequent stay on Malta, a fervent and solid Christian community was born, which, 2,000 years later, is still faithful to the Gospel, striving to apply the Gospel to the complex questions of this modern age.
Of course, this is not always easy, nor can it be taken for granted, but the Maltese people are able to find in this Christian view of life the answers to these new challenges. One sign of this, for example, is the fact that they have preserved a deep respect for unborn life and for the sacredness of marriage, choosing not to permit abortion or divorce in their nation’s legal system.
Therefore, the purpose of my trip was to confirm in the faith the Church that is in Malta — a Church that is a living reality, interwoven in society and present throughout the territory of Malta and Gozo [Malta’s sister island].
This whole community gathered together in Floriana at the Granaries Square in front of the Church of St. Publius, where I celebrated Holy Mass; the people participated with great fervor. For me, it was a joy and also a consolation to experience the particular warmth of the people there, who gave the impression of being one big family, united by faith and by the Christian view of life.
After the Celebration of the Eucharist, I met some persons who were victims of abuse by members of the clergy. I shared their suffering and, greatly moved, I prayed with them, assuring them that the Church will take action.
At the Crossroad of the World
Though Malta gives the impression of being one big family, it must not be thought that it is a society that is “isolated” from the world because of its geographical location. This is not the case, and one can see it, for example, in the contact that Malta maintains with various countries and in the Maltese priests who are to be found in many countries. Indeed, the families and parishes of Malta have been able to educate many young people in the awareness of God and the Church, so much so that many of them have responded generously to Jesus’ call and have become priests.
Many of these priests have embraced a commitment to be missionaries in far-off lands, inheriting the apostolic spirit that impelled St. Paul to take the Gospel where it had not yet arrived. This is one aspect that I have gladly stressed, namely that “faith is strengthened when it is given to others” (Redemptoris Missio, 2). Malta’s development is rooted in this faith, and it is now opening up to various economic, social and cultural situations in which it is able to make a valuable contribution.
A Vocation of Peace
It is clear that Malta has often had to defend itself throughout the centuries, and one can see this in its fortifications. The strategic position of this small archipelago obviously attracted the attention of political and military powers. Nonetheless, Malta’s deepest vocation is the Christian vocation — in other words, the universal vocation of peace! The flag with the famous Maltese cross, which everyone associates with that nation, has flown many times in the midst of conflicts and struggles. But, thank God, it has not lost its authentic and lasting meaning. It is the sign of love and reconciliation, and this is the true vocation of peoples who welcome and embrace the Christian message!
A natural crossroads, Malta is at the center of migration routes. Like St. Paul before them, men and women arrive on the shores of Malta — sometimes driven by very harsh living conditions, by violence and persecution — and this naturally entails problems: complex humanitarian, political and juridical problems, the solutions of which are not easy but must be sought with perseverance and tenacity, coordinating efforts at the international level. This should be done in all the nations that have Christian values at the root of their constitutions and cultures.
An Appeal to Young People
The challenge of reconciling the lasting value of the Gospel to today’s complex situation is a source of fascination for all, but especially for young people. In fact, the new generation perceives it more strongly, and that is why I wanted, despite the brevity of my visit, to include a meeting in Malta with young people. This was a moment of deep and intense dialogue, made even more beautiful by the setting where it occurred — the port of Valletta — and by the enthusiasm of the young people.
I could not but remind them of St. Paul’s experience as a youth — an extraordinary and unique experience — that has been able to speak to new generations throughout the ages because of the radical transformation that followed his encounter with the risen Christ. Thus, I look upon the young people of Malta as the potential heirs of St. Paul’s spiritual adventure, called like him to discover the beauty of God’s love that has been given to us in Jesus Christ; to embrace the mystery of his cross; to be victors amid trials and tribulations; and to not be afraid of the “storms” of life — not even the shipwrecks — because God’s plan of love is greater than even the storms and the shipwrecks.
Dear friends, this, in a nutshell, is the message I took to Malta. However, as I pointed out, I received so much from that Church, from those people blessed by God who have been able to collaborate effectively with his grace.
Through the intercession of the apostle Paul, of St. George Preca, a priest who was the first Maltese saint, and of the Virgin Mary, whom the faithful of Malta and Gozo venerate with such devotion, may they always grow in peace and in prosperity.