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Pope Francis in Malta to renew calls for peace and welcome

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At 10 a.m. on Saturday morning, Pope Francis arrived in Malta for a two-day visit to the Mediterranean archipelago of Malta, where he is expected to renew his calls for peace and welcome as millions of Ukrainians flock in Europe. After John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Francis is the third pope to visit Malta.

Pope Francis arrived in Malta on Saturday for a two-day visit to the Mediterranean archipelago of Malta, where he is expected to renew his calls for peace and welcome as millions of Ukrainians flock to Europe. The pontiff’s plane landed shortly before 10 a.m. (8 a.m. GMT) at the airport in the capital Valletta, according to AFP journalists on board. “Thank you very much for accompanying me on this trip, which is brief but which will be beautiful,” the pope told press correspondents.

The third pope to visit Malta

François, 85, will deliver a first speech to the authorities and the diplomatic corps at the presidential palace. In the afternoon, he will go by catamaran to Gozo (north), one of the three inhabited islands, where he will preside over a prayer at the national shrine of Ta’Pinu. Decreased by hip and knee pain, he had to use a lifting platform for the first time on Saturday to board his plane from Rome.

After John Paul II in 1990 and 2001 and Benedict XVI in 2010, Francis is the third pope to visit Malta. On the eve of his visit, he presented himself as a “pilgrim” walking in the footsteps of Saint Paul, patron saint of the island, to meet “a Christian community with a thousand-year-old history”. If Catholicism is still enshrined in the Maltese Constitution, religion has suffered a sharp decline in recent years and the pope should encourage evangelization in a context of declining vocations.

A long-awaited speech on endemic corruption

Will he express himself implicitly on the endemic corruption that strikes the country? The murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017, which shocked the country and the world, revived accusations of laxity around this scourge. On the port of Valletta, the yellow and white flags of the Vatican fly alongside those of Malta. “Welcome, Pope Francis,” read posters. This trip, his 36th abroad since his election in 2013, will see the Argentinian Jesuit return to his traditional “Papamobile” to greet the crowd.

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On the roads of the former British colony, the smiling face of the Holy Father replaced election posters put up for last week’s ballot, at the end of which the Labor government won a third term. “He is greatly admired. But perhaps not listened to enough… There is a big difference between admiring him and applying what he says,” Simone Torpiano, an 80-year-old Maltese retiree, told AFP. “He will tell us to be more welcoming, especially towards migrants… For a small island, we are already doing a lot but there is sometimes an air of racism based on the color” of skin, he laments.

Malta, a gateway for migrants to Europe

“I think he is more loved (than Benedict XVI) because he is much closer to people,” said Jane Bianco, a 60-year-old cleaning worker, as dozens of people have turned up in recent days. to finalize the preparations. Located between Sicily and Tunisia, the smallest state in the European Union is a gateway to Europe for migrants on the Mediterranean route. François, fervent defender of exiles and asylum seekers, should renew his appeals to Europe, in line with his last trip to Cyprus and Greece.

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“Malta is symbolic in several ways, (its location) at the barycentre of the Mediterranean, theater of the migratory tragedy and for the island itself: a story of shipwrecks, of Saint Paul, of migrations, with a very strong religious symbolism “, explains to AFP Bernard Valero, former diplomat and expert of the Mediterranean world.

10,000 worshipers expected in Valletta

Sunday, the leader of the 1.3 billion Catholics will meditate in the cave of Saint-Paul – patron saint of the island which was shipwrecked there in the year 60, according to Christian tradition – then will celebrate mass and the Angelus in Floriana, near Valletta, where some 10,000 worshipers are expected.

He will also meet migrants in a reception center in Hal Far (south). During his traditional press conference during the flight bringing him back to Rome, he could notably speak about the war in Ukraine, of which he strongly denounced the “martyrdom”. François, operated in 2021 of the colon and who canceled commitments in February due to “acute pain in the knee”, was initially supposed to go to Malta in 2020, a trip postponed due to the health crisis.

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