Pope Francis’ imminent visit to the Mediterranean island nation of Malta is set to take place this weekend (2-3 April).
Cardinal Mario Grech, General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, who is Maltese and was Bishop of the Maltese island of Gozo from 2005 to 2019, will be part of the Pope’s entourage for this Apostolic Journey. Vatican Radio sat down with the Cardinal to speak about his expectations for this Apostolic Visit.
The Journey’s theme is ‘They Showed Us Unusual Kindness’ (Acts 28:2) and highlights the plight of migrants crossing the Mediterranean toward Europe as well as promotes evangelization in the country. The theme also recalls the hospitable and warm welcome St. Paul received in 60 A.D., when his boat was shipwrecked and washed upon the shores of Malta.
Cardinal Grech, what does Pope Francis’ visit to Malta mean to you personally as a Maltese Catholic?
It is a moment of grace because I believe that the presence of Peter on the island of Paul will confirm us in our faith. And when I say that the Holy Father would strengthen our faith, I also mean that I am waiting that he will send a wake-up call to my nationals because although we are a Catholic nation with a strong Christian tradition, we are part of the world. We are a European country, so what is brewing on the continent is also present in our island. That is why I strongly pray the Holy Spirit will assist Pope Francis to make the most of his visit and to help us in our New Evangelization. I know my brothers in the episcopate of Malta are committed to this New Evangelization project.
In your opinion, what do the people of Malta need to hear from the Pope at this time?
I think we need someone to give us more hope because, as I said, we are part of the world and the world is going through some difficult moments where, unfortunately, it is very easy to lose hope. So yes, I think my people are very eagerly waiting to greet and welcome Pope Francis because after all, he is a personality, but he is more than a personality; he is Peter. He can give us reasons to not lose hope, to look to the future with enthusiasm and courage.
Your Eminence, many of our thoughts turn to Ukrainians forced to flee from their homes at this time. Do you believe the Ukrainian refugee emergency will be a backdrop to this trip where refugees are at the centre?
Even not considering this war in Ukraine, this phenomenon of refugees arriving in Europe — and therefore Malta is not excluded — but still the refugee argument is central for our islands being at the crossroads of the Mediterranean. I am glad that the Holy Father in such a short visit, a pilgrimage, managed to put on his agenda a meeting with some refugees. First of all, I think this will be an occasion for him to show his appreciation for my nation which notwithstanding all odds, we did do our part and we do do our part, but, as with everything, we can do more. And perhaps from our island, he can send a message to Europe because considering our nation, and the size of our nation, it is fair and just that Europe will not let Malta alone in this human tragedy.
You had alluded to a certain wake-up call being needed within the country. I would be curious to ask you, what are the challenges or greatest difficulties present that you feel must be addressed?
You remind me of an important message the Holy Father sent to Europe some months ago: human dignity and a transcendental opening for humanity. He was addressing Europe and as I told you earlier, Malta is part of Europe. So, if he directly or indirectly would help us appreciate more the human dignity of every human person and help us to open our hearts to the Transcendent, and when I say Transcendent, I mean God and to humanity, I think that would be a good gift that we will treasure.
Your Eminence, it is refreshing to hear of a country where more than 90% of the population has recently professed to be Catholic and where faith and devotion have deep roots. What do you think the churches in other countries could learn from Maltese Catholics?
I think today we stand where we stand because of our families. The first Christian experience we have is from the domestic church, which is the family. Obviously, even in Malta, the family has its challenges, but thanks to God, we still have families at our heart. And perhaps this is something we can share with other churches and other nations at the European level, because if we lose the family, the consequences will be very negative.
By Deborah Castellano Lubov