Pope Arrives to Confirm Malta in the Faith

On Last Leg of Historic Pilgrimage

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VALLETTA, Malta, MAY 8, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Following his visit to Orthodox Greece and predominantly Muslim Syria, John Paul II arrived in Catholic Malta today, on the last part of his pilgrimage in St. Paul´s footsteps.

Malta, which is 91% Catholic and boasts 65% attendance at Sunday Mass, is celebrating the Pontiff´s second official visit to the island. This tiny republic, south of Sicily, is about twice the size of Washington, D.C.

The Syrian Airlines plane named «Maria» landed at Malta´s Gudja airport in the early afternoon. John Paul II was received by Maltese President Guido Di Marco, Archbishop Joseph Mercieca and the island´s bishops.

In his address at the airport, the Pope recalled that St. Paul arrived in Malta as a prisoner, on his way to Rome.

«Here, he and his shipwrecked companions were treated — as we read in the Acts of the Apostles — ´with unusual kindness,´» the Pope said. «Here he bore witness to Christ, and restored to health the father of Publius and other people of the island who were sick.»

«For two millennia you have been faithful to the vocation involved in that singular encounter,» he added. «Today the Successor of Peter wishes to confirm you in the same faith, and to encourage you in the spirit of Christian hope and love.»

The Pontiff later paid a courtesy call to President Di Marco in the presidential palace.

The highlight of the Holy Father´s 30-hour visit will be the beatification of Malta´s first three blessed, which will take place Wednesday morning. Among them is Father George Preca (1880-1962), founder of the Society of Christian Doctrine. In the evening the Pope returns to Rome.

This is actually the third time the Holy Father has been in this nation of 391,000 inhabitants. Properly speaking, this is his second official trip. He was in Malta on pilgrimage from May 25-27, 1990. In September 1990 he made a stopover, before going on to Africa.

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