A New Beginning for Malta

Interview with Nuncio Archbishop Tommaso Caputo

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By Serena Sartin
VALLETTA, Malta, APRIL 15, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI’s trip to Malta this weekend will be “a pilgrimage to the origins of the faith,” according to the nuncio there.

Archbishop Tommaso Caputo, who has been a nuncio to the island nation since September 2007, told ZENIT ahead of the Papal visit that it’s a “great privilege” to be able to receive the Pope and “to open to Benedict XVI the doors of his ‘home’ in Malta.”

The Pope will arrive Saturday for a two-day visit. The archbishop noted that the trip takes place “on the imminent eve of the fifth anniversary of his election to the Chair of Peter [April 19] — a coincidence not only significant, but Providential.”
In this interview with ZENIT, Archbishop Caputo speaks more of how the nation is preparing for the Holy Father’s visit, and what it means to the people of Malta.

ZENIT: After years at the service of the Holy See in the State Secretariat, as nuncio, with what sentiments are you preparing to welcome the Holy Father in Malta?
Archbishop Caputo: When one awaits the Pope, the sentiments of gratitude and joy are natural on the part of all. In my case, I cannot but add the sensation of a great privilege: In my first experience as nuncio, Providence assigns me the task of having to open to Pope Benedict, pilgrim of peace and hope in the footsteps of Paul, the doors of “his” home in Malta. One cannot do more than live the ecclesial sensation of a grace and touch, at the same time, with the hand the historical importance that will undoubtedly mark a “new beginning” in the journey of the Maltese Church and society.

I speak in the future, although in the imminent eve of the visit, however, in many ways, the presence of Pope Benedict has already been alive on the Island from the moment it was announced. This time of waiting is marked first of all by reflection and prayer. It can be said that it has already borne fruits. And this makes even more profound the sentiments of gratitude and joy.
ZENIT: The Pope will make a sort of pilgrimage in the footsteps of St. Paul and, in Rabat, he will visit the Grotto. What expectations does the Church have in Malta?
Archbishop Caputo: Malta is apostolic land and represents, in this connection, an open and living page in the history of a Church that, in the vision of Pope Benedict — as he recalled in the course of a recent Wednesday General Audience — is ever more aware that the whole Christian event is, in its essence, a history of uninterrupted witness beginning with the Apostles. Hence, it will be a pilgrimage to the origins of the faith, but knowing well that every new horizon, also in the Church of the third millennium, cannot be thought of but from its roots.

In Pope Benedict’s magisterium, the fruitfulness of the apostolic succession shines as a great luminous point and, I would say, as the lamp capable of “illumining the steps” through the course of a modernity often disoriented and still in search of meaning.
Benedict XVI is coming to celebrate on the Island the 1,950th anniversary of Paul’s shipwreck. But the echo of the bimillenary that gave life to the Pauline Year is still alive and it can be said that, in the concretion of the places, the Pope is also coming to confirm that great ecclesial event. Clearly in face of the vastness of the meanings of the visit are, in proportion, the amplitude of the expectations that refer to the local Church. Also from this point of view, the pilgrimage takes place at the right moment.

The Maltese Church and society, united by a history with many points in common, are living a time of transformation. The rhythm of the changes might not seem tumultuous in relation to other parts of the world, but the whole Mediterranean area presents the characteristics of a transformation that might lead to important and decisive changes. The Pope will help us all to reflect and to seek the most correct and appropriate ways to respond to the challenges brought by the new times.
ZENIT: The visit has been well prepared by the Church and the state. What are the relations between these two institutions?
Archbishop Caputo: The Church-State relations are marked by a cordiality that I would describe not of “show,” but of substance. Also the commitment in the preparation of the visit has fully confirmed this appreciation. The framework of the relations is firm because it is rooted in the reality itself where the Church and civil society carry out their respective roles. Malta is rich in formative and charitable institutions. In a certain sense, it can be described  as a land of “widespread charity,” if one takes into account the substantial network of organisms of cooperation and aid, in favor above all of the most underprivileged. Often on the basis of all this there is a relation of collaboration between the ecclesial community and the civil society. Furthermore, the Order of Malta is a point of reference not only for the Island, although it certainly can be said that it all began from here.
There is moreover a fact, directly linked to the pilgrimage, that illustrates completely the nature of the Church-state relations. Benedict XVI’s will be the third visit of a Pontiff to the Island, in the course of the last 20 years: John Paul II was in Malta twice, in 1990 and 2001, his successor will be on the Island on the imminent eve of the fifth anniversary of his election to the Chair of Peter. This is also a coincidence, which is not only significant, but Providential.

Nor must it be forgotten that in Malta the Catholic religion is recognized as the state religion and that, because of this, it is the custom that at the beginning and end of their mandate, the presidents of the republic go to an audience with the Holy Father.
ZENIT: What do you think is Malta’s role in the European Union and in the transmission of values and Christian roots?
Archbishop Caputo: Undoubtedly Malta also has an important role in the European Community. The large countries are not such only because of the vastness of their territories or the number of their inhabitants. The weight of Malta’s history can influence somewhat in the European Community, all the more so if the countries of the Mediterranean area are able to express fully their own vocation of bridge between different worlds and realities, also within the organization itself.

The reference to the “Christian roots” is, for Malta, particularly appropriate. Pope Benedict’s pilgrimage in the footsteps of St. Paul is, in this sense, the confirmation of an ancient and always recognizable identity. Moreover, the geographic position contributes to describe and, in a certain sense, to update the real terms of this identity: Malta is a natural land of hospitality and, therefore, of dialogue and peaceful coexistence between different peoples and cultures.

It is about values that a globalized society — often only in commercial terms — on one hand and some “narrow-mindedness” of continental civilizations and peoples on the other, tend increasingly to make parenthetical. Instead, never before as today is it necessary to plough and enlarge to the maximum the terrain of hospitality. And Malta can play a great role.
ZENIT: The Pope will reside in the nunciature in Rabat. Are you preparing a small surprise?
Archbishop Caputo: I wouldn’t say surprise, but wonder. And what wonder can be greater that the event announced: Benedict XVI among us. History passes to our side. We have nothing else to do than to receive and to be servants of this moment of grace.

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