Catholic Malta Awaits John Paul II´s Arrival

First Three Islanders to Be Beatified

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ROME, MAY 7, 2001 ( John Paul II´s upcoming trip to Malta could help the tiny Mediterranean republic face its «crisis of values,» a Church official says.

Following his visits to Greece and Syria, the Pope is due to arrive Tuesday in the island republic of about 390,000 people. This is the island that offered hospitality to the Apostle to the Gentiles, after the shipwreck mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles.

During his 30-hour visit, the Holy Father will beatify three Maltese — a first for the republic. The three are:

–Father George Preca (1880-1962), a diocesan priest and founder of the Society of Christian Doctrine. This institution, composed of lay celibate men and women, is dedicated to study, reflection, prayer and the catechesis of youth. Its branches prepare Catholics for their first Communion and confirmation, and are present in virtually every Maltese parish. Today the group is also present in England, Sudan, Albania and Australia.

–Maria Adeodata Pisani (1806-1855), who lived in a cloistered convent for 26 years and was famous for her holiness and love of the poor.

–Nazju Falzon (1813-1865), a prominent lawyer who left his career to consecrate himself to God and dedicate himself to catechizing adults and youth.

Catholics constitute 91% of the population, and Sunday Mass attendance reaches 65%. Yet, Malta is experiencing the «crisis of values» that is evident in many other countries, Father Giuseppe Mifsud Bonnici, rector of the country´s archdiocesan seminary, told the Vatican agency Fides.

«Much depends on the proposals the Maltese Church will make,» he said. «The Pope´s visit and the beatifications will certainly give new impetus to the Church´s mission.»

The Holy Father will be welcomed at Malta´s international airport at 2 p.m. local time. Following this ceremony, he will pay a courtesy visit to the president.

The beatification ceremony will be held Wednesday in Graneros de Floriana Square. Following a visit in the afternoon to the Center of the Christian Doctrine Society in Hamrun, where Father Preca´s tomb is located, the Pope will bid this small country farewell and return to Rome.

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