Faced with falling mass attendance, Catholics in Malta hope papal visit will revitalize faith | National Catholic Register

The small Mediterranean island nation of Malta traces its Catholic roots back nearly 2,000 years. But with the recent drop in church attendance, local Catholic leaders are hoping Pope Francis’ visit this weekend will help reinvigorate his living faith.

More than 85 percent of Malta’s population are baptized Catholics, according to statistics released by the Vatican on March 29. Yet weekly Mass attendance in this traditionally Catholic country has steadily declined over the past 50 years.

According to Father Alan Joseph Adami, a Dominican priest from Malta, his home country has seen significant social and political changes over the past decade that reveal how much the place of the Catholic Church in society has changed.

“Since the last visit by a pope in 2010, by Pope Benedict, the island has changed a lot, really drastically,” Adami said in a March 29 interview with CNA.

“There have been several new secular laws that have been introduced and this has introduced a gap between the values ​​that are held by society collectively, the majority, and the views of the Church and its values.”

The Maltese government legalized no-fault divorce in 2011, same-sex marriage in 2017 and embryo freezing in 2018.

And while the Maltese government remains the only country in the European Union to completely ban abortion, the recently re-elected Labor government has pledged to launch a national discussion on the legalization of euthanasia.

Adami explained that in the past, the Catholic Church in Malta took somewhat for granted that the Maltese people shared its values ​​regarding family, life and human dignity.

“In the Maltese context, we have never had a strict separation between state and church, as you find in France or Italy,” Adami said.

But in just a decade, Maltese society has changed very rapidly.

“The Church must find a new way of living and announcing the Gospel in this new context,” the priest said.

“The island suffers from a great indifference to the faith which has become so identical with the culture that it is no longer noticeable in the fruits it produces,” he added.

“It’s very difficult to see what the fruits of Christian life are in Malta in 2022 because it’s getting so mixed up with cultural activities.”

This is a new phase in the long Catholic history of Malta, which has apostolic roots.

EWTN News.

The Bible records how Saint Paul was shipwrecked on the island of Malta for three months around AD 60 in the Acts of the Apostles.

Pope Francis took a line from the book of Acts for the theme of his April 2-3 trip to the Republic of Malta: “They showed us unusual kindness” (Acts 28:2).

The Pope plans to visit St. Paul’s Grotto in Rabat to pray on the morning of April 3. According to tradition, the cave is where the Apostle Paul lived and preached during his three-month stay on the island of Malta in 60 AD.

Father Adami explained that Malta’s Christian heritage is even reflected in its language, Maltese, which is a Semitic language that linguistically preserves ancient Christian Semitic words that have been lost elsewhere in the Arabic-speaking world.

“During the Arab conquest of the island, some would say that Christianity was eradicated, erased from the island. However, some Christian Arabic names that still survive to this day attest to some sort of continuation of Christianity on the island,” Adami said.

Malta has been conquered by Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines and Arabs throughout its long history. The Knights Hospitaller of St. John, now often referred to as the Order of Malta, was based in Malta from 1530 until Napoleon’s invasion in 1798. The island was also under British colonial rule from 1813 to 1964.

Pope Francis is due to visit the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’ Pinu on the Maltese island of Gozo, traveling by catamaran between the Maltese islands on the afternoon of April 2.

The shrine became a popular pilgrimage destination for the Maltese in the late 19th century after a worker named Carmela Grima said she heard the voice of the Virgin Mary, who called her to pray there.

The original chapel of Ta’Pinu, which means “of Philip”, dates back to the 16th century, but it welcomed so many pilgrims that a larger basilica shrine was built on the site from 1920 to 1931.

“We call Gozo ‘the Vatican of Malta’,” Adami said.

“There are churches on every street corner, chapels and priests everywhere. And the Ta’ Pinu shrine is one of the main devotions in Malta.

The Basilica of the National Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of Ta' Pinu on the Maltese island of Gozo.  EWTN.
The Basilica of the National Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’ Pinu on the Maltese island of Gozo. EWTN.

“I don’t think there is a Maltese family that visits Gozo and doesn’t go to Ta’Pinu, even the unbelievers go there,” he added.

Today Malta is known for its traditional Holy Week processions, which have been canceled for the past two years due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have had two Easters now with our churches closed, two years with our tradition suspended, no processions, and it has been a blow for the Maltese,” Adami said.

Pope Francis’ visit comes just before the first Holy Week in two years in which Catholic churches will be open to the public for liturgies.

“For us, having a visit from the Pope is something very special. I think the pope will come to renew us in our faith, help us to get closer to Jesus, but also help us to live together in peace, to respect each other, to grow as a Church,” said the Father Gerald Buhagiar, the rector of Ta’Pinu Basilica, said in an interview with EWTN.

EWTN.
EWTN.

As in Pope Francis’ other recent trips to Mediterranean countries, migration is also expected to be a key theme during the apostolic trip to Malta.

Malta has a “geographical and strategic location being at the heart of the Mediterranean, and therefore of the migration crisis, particularly from the African continent”, Adami said.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, in recent years the refugee population arriving in Malta has been mainly made up of Libyan, Syrian and Somali refugees. Over 800 migrants arrived in Malta by sea in 2021, a significant decrease from 2019, when 3,406 migrants arrived on Malta’s shores.

Unaccompanied children accounted for 24% of migrants arriving in Malta in 2020. These children were mostly from Sudan, Somalia, Bangladesh and Eritrea.

Many migrants arriving in Malta seek to travel to other mainland European countries.

Malta is one of the smallest countries in the world – one-tenth the size of the state of Rhode Island and one-fifth the size of London – and already also one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

Pope Francis plans to meet migrants at the John XXIII Peace Lab, an immigrant welcome center in Hal Far founded by Franciscan Father Dionysius Mintoff.

Franciscan Father Dionysius Mintoff, 91, founded the Peace Lab which Pope Francis will visit on April 3.  EWTN.
Franciscan Father Dionysius Mintoff, 91, founded the Peace Lab which Pope Francis will visit on April 3. EWTN.

Mintoff, who is 91, told EWTN he was looking forward to a visit from Pope Francis, first announced in 2020.

“We have migrant issues in our blood, in our blood,” Mintoff said.

The brother explained how he saw many Maltese emigrating immediately after the Second World War, which he experienced as a child.

Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, is from the island of Malta and served as Bishop of Gozo from 2005 to 2019. He will actively participate in the Pope’s trip, as will Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta. and Bishop Anton Teuma of Gozo.

Grech expressed hope that Pope Francis’ visit to Malta will be “a moment of grace” and also a “wake-up call” for Maltese Catholics.

“I believe Peter’s presence on Paul’s Island will confirm us in our faith,” Grech told Vatican News March 30.

The Maltese cardinal said he hoped the pope would encourage people to “appreciate more the human dignity of every human person and help us to open our hearts to the Transcendent.”

“That is why I urge the Holy Spirit to help Pope Francis make the most of his visit and help us in our new evangelization. I know that my brothers in the Episcopate of Malta are committed to this project of new evangelization,” he said.

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