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 CNS Story:

POPE-MALTA Apr-19-2010 (1,050 words) Roundup. With photos. xxxi

Pope urges Malta to hold fast to its Christian roots, values


Boys in Valletta hold up flags commemorating the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Malta April 17. (CNS/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VALLETTA, Malta (CNS) -- On a 27-hour visit to Malta, Pope Benedict XVI met with sex abuse victims, encouraged Maltese Catholics to keep the faith and walked in the footsteps of St. Paul.

In the midst of a worldwide storm over how the church has handled clerical sex abuse, the pope met privately with local sex abuse victims April 18, assuring them the church was doing everything in its power to bring perpetrators to justice and to prevent further abuse of young people.

The victims said they were pleased with the encounter and one said he felt "freed of a great weight" and was reconnected with his faith.

The shadow of sex abuse cases didn't dampen the local population's outpouring of enthusiasm nor did it obscure what the pope said was his main mission on the Mediterranean island: to reconfirm the faith of one of the most Catholic countries in the world and encourage the Maltese to fully live out their Christian identity and values.

Vans filled with youths waving giant Vatican flags coursed through the streets, humble stone homes hung banners and pictures of the pope from their balconies, and tens of thousands of faithful and the curious lined city streets and squares to cheer and get a glimpse of the pope.

Celebrating the 1,950th anniversary of St. Paul's arrival in Malta, the pope was able to hold the apostle up as an example or inspiration in his talks to politicians, Catholics, young people and even journalists.

In remarks to the Vatican press corps aboard the papal flight from Rome to Malta, the pope said St. Paul shows how life's tragedies can become an opportunity to do good.

Just as St. Paul's shipwreck on the island became the seed that planted Christianity in Malta, so too "life's shipwrecks can be part of God's plan for us and they may also be useful for new beginnings in our lives," he said.

In his homily during Mass in Granaries Square April 18, the pope said St. Paul urged his companions to confront the stormy seas by placing their complete trust in God. To save their troubled craft, they had to cast all their supplies overboard and pray God would protect them from harm, the pope said.

People today also must shed their excess cargo -- that is, superfluous possessions, vain accomplishments and dependence on technology as a cure-all -- because the real key to happiness and human fulfillment is one's relationship with God, he said. With God "we can do all things: without him we can do nothing."

The pope even evoked St. Paul's arrival by sailing across Malta's Grand Harbor before his meeting with young people April 18.

He rode together with a group teens aboard a large white catamaran named "San Pawl." Navigating the choppy waters, his boat was flanked by every kind of sea craft imaginable from military ships and million-dollar yachts to traditional wooden boats and rubber dinghies.

On stage before the nearly 40,000 people stretched along the fortressed waterfront, the pope used the example and teachings of St. Paul to respond to young people who spoke of their experiences and questions about faith.

The pope said, "God rejects no one. And the church rejects no one."

God knows people intimately -- all their strengths and weaknesses -- and yet he loves his children so much that he challenges people to purify themselves of their sins and faults, he said.

"When he challenges us because something in our lives is displeasing to him, he is not rejecting us, but he is asking us to change and become more perfect," he said.

One challenge facing Malta is the influx of illegal immigrants who end up on its shores on their way to other European countries. The country has been criticized by human rights advocates for its forced detention policies and the sometimes abysmal conditions of its detention centers.

The pope told young people that it is their duty as Christians to care for the vulnerable and "be attentive to the needs of immigrants and asylum seekers."

But in a number of talks, the pope said the problem could not be solved by Malta alone.

In his farewell speech at the Luqa airport, the pope told President George Abela and other government leaders to strive to continue to welcome the world's "strangers" as the ancient Maltese welcomed St. Paul. With the help of other European states and international organizations, Malta will act to aid "those who arrive here and to ensure that their rights be respected."

The pope praised the way Malta has been able to build a nation founded on Christian values and praised the country's defense of the unborn and of the traditional family based on marriage between a man and a woman.

Abortion and divorce are illegal in Malta, and the pope asked President Abela in his welcoming address that the nation "continue to stand up for the indissolubility of marriage" and the "true nature of the family."

As part of his spiritual journey commemorating St. Paul, Pope Benedict prayed in Rabat at the grotto where tradition holds the apostle lived for the three months he was stranded in Malta. The pope greeted some 250 Maltese missionaries in St. Paul's Church and called on his audience to "live out your faith ever more fully" at home, work and in society.

The world needs credible Christian witness especially given the many threats facing human life, traditional marriage and the "moral truths which remain the foundation of authentic freedom and genuine progress," he said.

Thousands of children packed into St. George's Square in Valletta April 17 to sing the pope a belated "Happy Birthday" in English, German, Italian and Maltese. The pope smiled, waved and blessed the children when he appeared on the balcony of the presidential palace. The pope turned 83 April 16.

The Maltese didn't forget the fifth anniversary of his pontificate either, which fell on April 19. On the flight back from Malta to Rome April 18, the crew of the Air Malta flight gave the pope a traditional Maltese cake made of ground almonds, which was shared with the papal entourage and the Vatican press corps. The cake had yellow and white frosting -- the Vatican colors -- and Pope Benedict's coat of arms.

END


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