VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI plans to visit Malta next April to commemorate the 1,950th anniversary of St. Paul’s shipwreck on the Mediterranean island.
The bishops of Malta announced the papal visit Sept. 12, and Vatican Radio confirmed it the following day. A Vatican trip planner was to travel to Malta in October to lay the groundwork for the visit.
The trip will give the pope a chance to highlight once again the figure of St. Paul, who according to tradition shipwrecked on Malta in the year A.D.60 while on his way to Rome to stand trial. Scriptures recount that the inhabitants showed “extraordinary hospitality” to St. Paul, who healed sick people on the island.
Pope Benedict presided over a special jubilee year for St. Paul in 2008-2009, to underline the saint as a model of missionary energy in the church.
The visit also will spotlight a chronic problem in modern Malta, the arrival of thousands of illegal immigrants from Africa, who often wash up Malta on their way to other European countries. What to do with the arrivals has become a hot political issue on the island.
Archbishop Paul Cremona of Malta recently told the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, that today’s immigrants and refugees should be welcomed just as St. Paul was in the first century.
By welcoming St. Paul, the archbishop said, the Maltese demonstrated a “strong sense of openness toward someone who is ‘different,’ the foreigner.”
“This is a sentiment that should be preserved and practiced in the present historical moment, which is marked by great migration of the masses,” he said. He added that it was necessary to eliminate prejudices and treat immigrants first and foremost as people.
Pope Benedict is scheduled to travel to the Czech Republic in late September of this year. The visit to Malta is the first papal trip announced for 2010.