This weekend Pope Francis will make his first international trip of 2022. It was originally planned for May 2020, but was postponed because of the pandemic. Pope Francis will visit this small Mediterranean state on April 2 and 3.
This trip will be the 36th apostolic journey (outside Italy) of his pontificate and Malta will be the 56th state visited, said Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office, during a press briefing on March 29, 2022.
Pope Francis will be the third pope to visit the island, after John Paul II, who went in 1990 and 2001, and Benedict XVI, who went in 2010.
The Argentinean Pope will follow in the footsteps of St. Paul, whose shipwreck in Malta is recounted in the Acts of the Apostles. Pope Francis addressed this episode during two Wednesday audiences, on January 8, 2020 and January 22, 2020.
The Bishop of Rome will deliver five speeches, all in Italian, a language spoken by about a third of the Maltese population. Translations into English and Maltese will be provided for the public attending the events.
The Maltese language, which blends Arabic, English and Italian influences, demonstrates the nature of Malta as an intercultural crossroads. This intercultural dimension will be emphasized by Pope Francis during his stay, added Bruni during the press briefing.
The two most important gatherings in terms of attendance will be the prayer on Saturday, April 2, at the Marian shrine of Ta’Pinu, where 3,000 faithful are expected, and the Mass in Floriana on Sunday, April 3, with 10,000 registered faithful. Restrictions remain in effect due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Catholic identity still strong
Malta is the smallest country in the European Union, with 316 square kilometers, and is also the most densely populated, with 1,513 inhabitants per square kilometer. According to a 2018 survey, the overwhelming majority of the Maltese population adheres to Christianity (95.2%) with Catholicism as the main denomination (93.9%).
The ecclesiastical network remains strong, with, according to statistics provided by the Holy See, the presence of more than 700 priests and nearly 800 nuns. The two dioceses of Malta and Gozo have a total of 85 parishes. The local Church also has 48 seminarians, but no permanent deacons at the moment.
Politically and institutionally, Malta is one of the few states in the world where Catholicism is enshrined in the constitution.