Pope at St. Paul’s Grotto

VATICAN CITY — Visiting Malta, Pope Benedict paid a visit Saturday to the grotto where tradition holds that St. Paul took refuge after his shipwreck some 1,950 years ago.

The grotto lies beneath the Church of St. Paul in the village of Rabat. Here is the text of the pope’s talk at the end of his visit:

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 – “Jeħtieg iżda li naslu fi gżira” ["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!

En route to Malta, pope speaks of wounds of sins

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict arrived in Malta this afternoon for an overnight visit. The pope spoke briefly to reporters aboard his plane, including CNS correspondent Carol Glatz, who reports that the pope said the church as the body of Christ has been “wounded by our sins.”

Although he did not specifically use the term “sex abuse,” the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said the pope was indeed referring to the continuing scandal over sex abuse by priests.

UPDATE: Rather than take questions from reporters, the pope delivered an impromptu talk to the journalists based on written questions submitted in advance. Here is Vatican Radio’s English-language translation of the remarks by Father Lombardi and the pope:

Fr. Federico Lombardi:

Dear friends, His Holiness is among us once again for the first of those five trips that are already planned for this year. We are very pleased to have him with us at the beginning of this trip so that we may also give him our best wishes for the two anniversaries, his birthday yesterday and the anniversary of the coming Monday. The Holy Father has received the questions that some of you submitted and which to some extent express the expectations that we all have at the beginning of this trip and therefore he will give some reflections, make some considerations on the basis of our questions. We will not follow the usual formula of question and answer, we will let the Holy Father, for his part, give us a brief speech. Thank you Your Holiness and bon voyage

Pope Benedict XVI:

Dear friends, good evening! Let us hope we have a good journey, without this dark cloud that is hanging over part of Europe.

So why this trip to Malta? The reasons are manifold.

The first is St. Paul. The Pauline Year of the universal Church is over, but Malta is celebrating 1,950 years since the shipwreck and this is my opportunity to once again bring to light the great figure of the Apostle to the Gentiles, with his important message even [for] today. I think we can summarize the essence of his journey with the words with which he himself summarised it at the end of the letter to the Galatians: Faith working through love.

These are the important things today: faith, the relationship with God, which then turns into love. I also think the memory of the shipwreck says something to us. For Malta, the opportunity to have the faith was born with the shipwreck. We can also think about how the shipwrecks of life can be part of God’s project for us, and be useful for a new beginning in our life.

The second reason: I am glad to live in the midst of lively church, which the Church in Malta is. Even today it is fruitful in vocations, full of faith in the midst of our time, responding to the challenges of our time. I know that Malta loves Christ and loves his Church which is his body and knows that, even if this body is wounded by our sins, God loves this church and its gospel is the true force that purifies and heals.

Third point: Malta is the point where the waves of refugees arrive from Africa and knock at Europe’s door. This is a great problem of our time, and, of course, cannot be resolved by the island of Malta. We must all respond to this challenge, work so that everyone can live a dignified life in their homeland and on the other hand do everything possible so that these refugees find here, where they arrive, that they find a decent living space. A response to a great challenge of our time: Malta reminds us of these problems and also reminds us that their faith is the force that gives charity, and thus also the imagination to respond well to these challenges. Thank you

In his speech at Malta’s Luqa International Airport, the pope spoke of St. Paul’s shipwreck off the island 1,950 years ago, and he encouraged the predominantly Christian nation to keep standing up for the indissolubility of marriage and the sanctity of human life.

Here’s the original text of the pope’s remarks:

Mr President,

Dear Brother Bishops,

Distinguished Authorities,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Jien kuntent ħafna li ninsab fostkom! [I am delighted to be here with you!]It gives me great joy to be here in Malta with you today. I come among you as a pilgrim to worship the Lord and to praise him for the wonders he has worked here. I come also as the Successor of Saint Peter to confirm you in the faith (cf. Lk 22:32) and to join you in prayer to the one living and true God, in the company of all the Saints, including the great Apostle of Malta, Saint Paul. Though my visit to your country is short, I pray that it will bear much fruit.

I am grateful, Mr President, for the kind words with which you have greeted me in your own name and on behalf of the Maltese people. I thank you for your invitation and for the hard work that you and the Government have done in order to prepare for my visit. I thank the Prime Minister, the civil and military authorities, the members of the Diplomatic Corps and everyone present, for honouring this occasion by your presence and for your cordial welcome.

I greet in a special way Archbishop Paul Cremona, Bishop Mario Grech and Auxiliary Bishop Annetto Depasquale, as well as the other Bishops present. In greeting you, I wish to express my affection for the priests, deacons, men and women Religious and all the lay faithful entrusted to your pastoral care.

The occasion of my visit to these islands is the nineteen hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Saint Paul’s shipwreck off the island of Malta. Saint Luke describes this event in the Acts of the Apostles, and it is from his account that you have chosen the theme of this visit: “Jeħtieg iżda li naslu fi gżira” ["But we are to be stranded on some island"] (Acts 27:26). Some might consider Saint Paul’s arrival in Malta by means of a humanly unforeseen event to be a mere accident of history. The eyes of faith, however, enable us to recognize here the workings of divine Providence.

Malta, in fact, has been at the crossroads of many of the great events and cultural exchanges in European and Mediterranean history, right up to our own times. These islands have played a key role in the political, religious and cultural development of Europe, the Near East, and North Africa. To these shores, then, in the mysterious designs of God, the Gospel was brought by Saint Paul and the early followers of Christ. Their missionary work has borne much fruit over the centuries, contributing in innumerable ways to shaping Malta’s rich and noble culture.

On account of their geographical position, these islands have been of great strategic importance on more than one occasion, even in recent times: indeed, the George Cross upon your national flag proudly testifies to your people’s great courage during the dark days of the last world war. Likewise, the fortifications that feature so prominently in the island’s architecture speak of earlier struggles, when Malta contributed so much to the defence of Christianity by land and by sea. You continue to play a valuable role in the ongoing debates on European identity, culture and policy. At the same time, I am pleased to note your Government’s commitment to humanitarian projects further afield, especially in Africa. It is greatly to be hoped that this will serve to promote the welfare of those less fortunate than yourselves, as an expression of genuine Christian charity.

Indeed, Malta has much to contribute to questions as diverse as tolerance, reciprocity, immigration, and other issues crucial to the future of this continent. Your Nation should continue to stand up for the indissolubility of marriage as a natural institution as well as a sacramental one, and for the true nature of the family, just as it does for the sacredness of human life from conception to natural death and for the proper respect owed to religious freedom in ways that bring authentic integral development to individuals and society.

Malta also has close links to the near East, not only in cultural and religious terms, but even linguistically. Allow me to encourage you to put this ensemble of skills and strengths to ever greater use so as to serve as a bridge of understanding between the peoples, cultures and religions which surround the Mediterranean. Much has still to be done to build relationships of genuine trust and fruitful dialogue, and Malta is well placed to hold out the hand of friendship to her neighbours to north and south, to east and west.

The Maltese people, enlightened for almost two millennia by the teachings of the Gospel and continually fortified by their Christian roots, are rightly proud of the indispensable role that the Catholic faith has played in their nation’s development. The beauty of our faith is expressed in various and complementary ways here, not least in the lives of holiness which have led Maltese to give of themselves for the good of others. Among these we must include Dun Ġorɍ Preca, whom I was pleased to canonize just three years ago (3 June, 2007). I invite all of you to invoke his intercession for the spiritual fruitfulness of this, my first pastoral visit among you.

I look forward to praying with you during my time in Malta and I wish, as a father and as a brother, to assure you of my affection for you and my eagerness to share this time with you in faith and friendship. With these thoughts, I entrust all of you to the protection of Our Lady of Ta’ Pinu and your father in the faith, the great Apostle Paul.

Il-Mulej ibierek lill-poplu kollu ta’ Malta u ta’ Għawdex! [God bless all the people of Malta and Gozo!].

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