A Look Ahead at the Apostolic Voyage of Pope Benedict XVI to Malta

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A billboard promoting Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming papal visit to Malta is seen in downtown Valletta April 16, 2010. The pope is visiting Malta over the weekend, the highlight of which will be his pilgrimage to the grotto, where Saint Paul is believed to have stayed when he came to Malta in 60 A.D. , converting the islanders to Christianity.

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(RV- 16 Apr 2010) Pope Benedict XVI  will set off tomorrow on his 14th Apostolic Voyage, and his first to the Mediterranean island of Malta.

The Pope was invited by the bishops of Malta to mark the 1950 anniversary of the shipwreck of St Paul.

He will spend Saturday and Sunday on the island, visiting its people and celebrating with the local Church.

Two popemobiles, ten marching bands, three hundred accredited foreign journalists, a choir of five thousand children and eighteen hundred police.

They are just some of the numbers that make up the organisational machine behind Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Malta.

With only twenty-four hours to go, the people of this small windswept Mediterranean island are busy washing the paved streets in front of their homes, hanging out flags and flower baskets, as the papal colours of white and gold transform the sandstone streets of the capital Valetta and beyond.

The Pope is scheduled to touch down at Luqa international airport at 5pm local time Saturday afternoon, where he will he will be welcomed by the President of Malta, George Abela.

Malta’s leading English language newspaper, The Times of Malta, reports that the Pope will pass through over 40 parishes on his journeys from the airport, through Valetta the capital, to Rabat, home to the Grotto of St Paul and where he will speak directly to the people for the first time.

This is the Grotto where 1950 years ago St Paul sought refuge from a ship wreck, and where tradition holds he first preached the Christian message to the people of the island. An island that is today home to 413 thousand people, over 90% of whom say they are Catholic.

The Malta Times on line has also published the routes the pope-mobile will take, after it was inundated by requests from ordinary Maltese who in their own words, want to turn out to welcome ‘their Pope’.

But this sense of anticipation, the excitement that permeates the island and its people, has found little space in international press which instead prefers to focus on the abuse scandal and their view of its impact on Pope Benedict.

Speculation over a meeting between Pope Benedict and Maltese victims of abuse has abounded. On Friday, Archbishop Paul Cremona did not rule out the possibility of such a meeting, but did point out that there was not much flexibility in the Pope’s 24 hour programme to make such a meeting possible.

Also on Friday a local victim’s support group welcomed the acceptance of their request for a meeting with the Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Mgr Charles Scicluna.

Mgr Scicluna, a native of Malta and, has agreed to meet the group in June. In a statement issued to press the group of ten men who were abused as children say that they “welcome the Pope to Malta with open arms”.

A welcome that is reflected in the faces of the people you meet on the streets. With only two days to go, organisers have had to increase the seating capacity and widen the paths on Floriana Square where the Holy Father will celebrate Mass on Sunday morning.

While an estimated 10 thousand young people have requested passes to attend their meeting with the Pope on Sunday evening on Valletta Waterfront.

And here are some last numbers for you. 400 the number of prison inmates who will be included in the Waterfront meeting with the Pope, 150 the small coloured fishing boats that will form a guard of honour around the Pope as he crosses Valetta harbour, the successor of St Peter the fisher of men, and finally, 365 the churches, one on almost every street, or as the Maltese themelves prefer to say, “one for every day of the year”

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Women prepare floral arrangements near the main altar where Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate Mass on Sunday in Floriana, outside Valletta, April 16, 2010. The pope is visiting Malta over the weekend, the highlight of which will be his pilgrimage to the grotto, where Saint Paul is believed to have stayed when he came to Malta in 60 A.D. , converting the islanders to Christianity.

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A banner welcoming Pope Benedict XVI to Malta, with writing reading in Italian “Welcome among us Holy Father” hangs in the village of Attard, Malta, Thursday, April 15, 2010. The pope is scheduled to arrive Saturday afternoon, meet with the president and visit a grotto linked to St. Paul. On Sunday he will celebrate an open air Mass and meet with young people before returning to Rome.

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Women carry flowers down to St Paul’s Grotto in preparation for Pope Benedict XVI’s visit in Rabat, outside Valletta, April 16, 2010. The pope is visiting Malta over the weekend, the highlight of which will be his pilgrimage to the grotto, where Saint Paul is believed to have stayed when he came to Malta in 60 A.D. , converting the islanders to Christianity.