The Malta Independent 10 April 2020, Friday

Pope Francis’s visit

Rachel Borg Saturday, 15 February 2020, 08:47 Last update: about 3 months ago

This week it was announced that Pope Francis will be coming to Malta on an apostolic visit on 31.5.20, feast of Pentecost.  His visit follows on the invitation extended by President George Vella and was confirmed by the Archbishop of Malta, Charles Scicluna.

The visit is taking place at a time when Malta has been in the international news and political scene, with the New York Times regularly reporting on several stories coming out of our island.  These stories include the murder of award-winning journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia and the dubious award for Maltese Ex-Prime Minister Joseph Muscat who has been selected as the 2019 Person of the Year in Organized Crime and Corruption by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and the Panama Papers revealing Muscat’s Ex-Chief-of-Staff, Keith Schembri and ex-Minister Konrad Mizzi as having been listed among the off-shore company holders, without ever being investigated.

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It is also a time of rampant corruption on the island, amongst ordinary people, the Police Force and extending all the way up to the highest office of then Prime Minister Muscat, before he resigned in January of this year. 

The harm that has been done to the environment is another story of concern amongst citizens here and abroad.  The quality of life and serious pockets of poverty and the discrimination amongst people about those who are marginalised also come under the radar.

But, what is the state of the Church itself right now in Malta and Gozo?  That carnival float depicting a really shameful attack on the church and the Archbishop himself, may be seen as a cameo of some persons’ opinion in our society.  It is not the first time, either, that the Archbishop has had to deal with insults and disrespect. 

It may be said that the Church is still bruised from the fall-out of the way it handled the divorce issue.  But presently, the continuous references to abortion mean that this issue is too close to ignore and past mistakes should be avoided.  It will be interesting to see if Pope Francis will include this in his sermon or if indeed it will be the most important message he brings.

Prime Minister Robert Abela, unfortunately, reduced our people to political partisans and gave the visit a political and secular theme, linking it to the values of the government and a chance to come together.  There is no civil war in Malta.  We have people of different political choices, just like any other country.  We come together every Sunday at mass and in our famous Festas.  If not, that’s fine.  Nobody is judging anyone for not going to mass and it does not mean that we are not one people.  There are other civil ways we come together.  We share many similar values and it is not only charity that brings us together.  More likely, the Prime Minister has this perception because the political class is distanced from the people by its own making, creating its own privileged society. 

How such values as he mentioned - tolerance and civil rights - when these may in future include abortion and when tolerance meant the cleaning of the memorial to Daphne Caruana Galizia, can be compatible with the Pope’s values, is quite hard to comprehend.

When a Pope is invited to make an apostolic visit to a country, he does need the permission of the government to do so because he is also Head of State of the Vatican.  But the Pope does not come for worldly or stately reasons.  He comes to deliver as always, the word of God for his people and the message of Jesus Christ, to Evangelise.  He comes as an apostle of Christ, on a spiritual mission.

Pope Francis has a character that is close to the people and their suffering.  Whilst He would never put that compassion above the message of Christ, he is always intent on bringing the message of God’s love to the world and delivering it on a practical level too, living it in his simplicity and generosity.

If we do choose to attend the mass and the events around the visit of the Pope, let it be not for showing the world that Malta is some super-friendly place and so that we are seen and admired around the world.  The Pope is here to see and speak to his congregation.  He can bring clarity and light and help us to recognise where we have lost our way.

Let us be grateful to God for this grace and embrace it with humility and sincerity. 

Christianity is a religion and Pope Francis is the Head of the Roman Catholic Church.  The people who are baptised in this Church are asked to abide by the faith. 

To be a witness is to fully embrace the teaching of Jesus Christ and to be consistent with what the faith teaches us.  The respect for life from conception to old age, for the disabled and infirm or those suffering from incurable disease is fundamental. 

We are free.  We were made free.  By all means, come to the visit of the Pope and enjoy it even if you are a non-believer.  But do not use it to reduce the pastoral visit into a secular one, putting the nation before God.  Neither is this an international competition, where we show our faith in numbers.  As usual, we look at numbers and come to the conclusion that they are an indication of the spiritual condition of the Maltese.  It is far from so.  It will indeed be a blessing from the Virgin Mary, whom so many revere in our villages and towns across Malta and Gozo and on pilgrimages to Lourdes and Fatima and other sacred places, if there were to be a good attendance at the public events to show our gratitude and respect to the Pope.  What really matters, though, is the sincerity of people there, whether they are there for the secular message or the pastoral one, knowing the difference with the respect it deserves.

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