On the Trip to Malta

«The Plan of the Love of God Is Even Greater Than the Storms»

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 21, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

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Dear brothers and sisters:
As you know, last Saturday and Sunday I undertook an apostolic journey to Malta, on which I would like to reflect briefly today. The occasion of the pastoral visit was the 1,950th anniversary of the Apostle Paul’s shipwreck on the coasts of the Maltese archipelago and of his sojourn on those islands during almost three months. It is an event that occurred around the year 60 and which is recounted with abundant detail in the book of the Acts of the Apostles (chapters 27-28).

As happened to St. Paul, I also experienced the warm welcome of the Maltese — truly extraordinary — and because of this I express again my most heartfelt and cordial gratitude to the president of the republic, to the government and to the other state authorities, and I fraternally thank the bishops of the country, along with all those who collaborated in preparing this festive meeting between the Successor of Peter and the Maltese people. The history of these people for 2,000 years is inseparable from the Catholic faith, which characterizes its culture and traditions. It is said that in Malta there are 365 churches, «one for each day of the year,» a visible sign of this profound faith!
It all began with that shipwreck: After drifting for 14 days, pushed by the winds, the vessel that transported the Apostle Paul and many other persons to Rome, ran aground on a sandbank of the Island of Malta. That is why, after the very cordial meeting with the president of the republic, in the capital Valletta — which had the beautiful framework of the joyful greeting with so many boys and girls — I went immediately on pilgrimage to the so-called Grotto of St. Paul, near Rabat, for an intense moment of prayer. There I was also able to greet a large group of Maltese missionaries.

To think of this small archipelago in the center of the Mediterranean, and how the seed of the Gospel arrived in it, stirs a sentiment of great amazement in face of the mysterious plans of Divine Providence: Arising spontaneously is gratitude to the Lord and also to St. Paul, who, in the midst of that violent storm, kept his confidence and hope and transmitted them also to his travel companions. From that shipwreck, or better, from Paul’s subsequent sojourn in Malta, was born a fervent and solid Christian community, which after 2,000 years is still faithful to the Gospel and makes an effort to combine it with the complex questions of the contemporary age. This, naturally, is not always easy, nor is it taken for granted, but the Maltese know how to find in the Christian vision the answer to the new challenges. A sign of this, for example, is the fact of having kept firm their profound respect for unborn life and for the sacredness of marriage, choosing not to introduce abortion and divorce in the country’s juridical system.
Hence, my journey had as its objective to confirm in the faith the Church that is in Malta, a very living reality, well ordered and present in the territory of Malta and Gozo. This community met in Floriana, in Granai Square, before the Church of St. Paul, where I celebrated Holy Mass, in which there was participation with great fervor. It was for me a motive of joy and also of consolation, to feel the particular warmth of that people, which gives the feeling of a great family, united by the faith and Christian vision of life. After the celebration, I wished to meet with some victims of abuses on the part of members of the clergy. I shared with them their suffering and, overwhelmed, I prayed with them, assuring them of the Church’s action.
If Malta gives the impression of a great family, one must not think that, because of its geographic conformation, it is a society «isolated» from the world. This is not so and one sees it, for example, in the contacts that Malta has with several countries and because of the fact that Maltese priests are in many nations. In fact, the families and parishes of Malta have been able to educate many young people in the sense of God and of the Church, so much so that many of them have responded generously to Jesus’ call and have become presbyters. Among these, many have embraced the missionary commitment ad gentes, in far off lands, inheriting the apostolic spirit that impelled St. Paul to take the Gospel where it had not yet arrived. This is an aspect that I have stressed, namely, that «faith is strengthened when it is given to others» (Redemptoris Missio, 2). Malta has developed on the trunk of this faith and now opens to several economic, social and cultural realities, to which it offers a precious contribution.
Clearly Malta has often had to defend itself in the course of the centuries — and this is seen by its fortifications. The strategic position of the small archipelago obviously attracted the attention of the different political and military powers. And yet, Malta’s most profound vocation is the Christian vocation, that is, the universal vocation of peace! Malta’s famous cross, which everyone associates with that nation, has waved many times in the midst of conflicts and struggles; but thank God, it has not lost its authentic and lasting meaning: It is the sign of love and reconciliation, and this is the true vocation of peoples who receive and embrace the Christian message!
A natural crossroads, Malta is at the center of migration routes: men and women, like St. Paul before them, arrive on the Maltese coasts, at times impelled by conditions of life that are too harsh, by violence and persecutions, and this entails, naturally, complex problems on the humanitarian, political and juridical plane, problems that have solutions but that are not easy, but which must be sought with perseverance and tenacity, coordinating interventions at the international level. It is good to do this in all the nations that have Christian values at the root of their constitutional charters and cultures.
The challenge to reconcile the lasting validity of the Gospel in today’s complexity is fascinating for all, but especially for young people. In fact, the new generations perceive it more strongly, and that is why I wished, despite the brevity of my visit, that a meeting not be lacking in Malta with young people. This was a moment of intense and profound dialogue, made even more beautiful by the environment in which it took place — the port of Valletta — and by the enthusiasm of the young people. I could not fail to remind them of St. Paul’s youthful experience: an extraordinary, unique experience and yet able to speak to the new generations of every age, by that radical transformation that followed the encounter with the Resurrected Christ. Therefore I saw the young people of Malta as the potential heirs of St. Paul’s spiritual adventure, called, like him, to discover the beauty of the love of God that has been given to us in Jesus Christ; to embrace the mystery of the cross; to be victors precisely in the trials and tribulations, not to be afraid of the «storms» of life, or of shipwrecks, because the plan of the love of God is even greater than the storms and shipwrecks.
Dear friends, this, in synthesis, has been the message I took to Malta. However, as I pointed out, I have received much from that Church, from those people blessed by God, who have been able to collaborate effectively with his grace. Through the intercession of the Apostle Paul, of St. Gorg Preca, priest and first Maltese saint, and of the Virgin Mary, whom the faithful of Malta and Gozo venerate with such devotion, may they be able to progress always in peace and in prosperity.
 [Translation by ZENIT] [The Pope then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:] 
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This past weekend I had the joy of visiting Malta for the nineteen hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Saint Paul’s shipwre
ck and his three-month sojourn there. I am deeply grateful to the civil and Church authorities, and to all who received me so warmly. At the Grotto of Saint Paul I thanked God for the abundant fruits of faith, holiness and missionary zeal which the preaching of the Apostle has brought forth on those islands. The Christian vision, so deeply rooted in Maltese life and culture, continues to provide inspiration for meeting the great social and moral challenges of the present time. The vitality of the faith in Malta was evident in the joyful celebration of Mass before the Church of Saint Publius. As a natural crossroads, Malta has never been isolated or self-enclosed, nor has the Maltese cross, which I saw waving everywhere, ever lost its authentic meaning as a signs of love and reconciliation. The challenge of passing on the perennial wisdom and truth of the Gospel belongs in a particular way to the younger generation. At the port of Valletta, I challenged Malta’s young people to look to Saint Paul’s spiritual journey as a model for their own, to let their lives be changed by an encounter with the Risen Christ, and to trust that God’s loving plan is more powerful than any storm or shipwreck along the way.
I welcome the newly-ordained deacons from the Pontifical Scots College, together with their family members and friends. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from Finland, Norway, Sweden, Indonesia, the Philippines, Canada and the United States, I invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Lord.
©Copyright 2010 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana
 [In Italian, he said:] 
I greet so many students of every order and degree, whom I thank for their numerous participation, with a particular thought for the Nazareth Institute of Rome, and I encourage them to persevere in the generous commitment of Christian witness in the school sector.

A special thought goes, finally, to the other young people, to the sick and to newlyweds. Next Sunday, the fourth Sunday of the season of Easter, the Day of Prayer for Vocations will be celebrated. A hope that you, dear young people, will find in the dialogue with God your personal response to his plan of love; I invite you, dear sick, to offer your sufferings so that numerous and holy vocations will mature. And you, dear newlyweds, draw from daily prayer the strength to build a genuine Christian family.
 [Translation by ZENIT]

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