Malta follows you Paul as you follow Jesus!

Today, Friday 10 February 2023, we Maltese are celebrating the solemnity when St Paul came to our Island. Tears roll from our eyes when, during the solemn mass that is celebrated today, we read from the Book of Acts of the Apostles: After we had escaped, we then learned that the island was called Malta. And the natives showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold (Acts 28:1-2).

The Maltese at that time showed great kindness with St Paul and his companions. We showed him our love and care. To my mind and heart come different comments of various illustrious people who visited us throughout history who admitted that they too experienced this warm welcome which St Paul and his entourage received 2000 years ago.

Pope Benedict XVI in his general audience of Wednesday, 21 April 2010, expressed this sentiment so well when he said: Like St Paul, I too experienced the warm welcome of the Maltese truly extraordinary and for this reason once again express my deep and cordial gratitude to the President of the Republic, to the Government and to the other State Authorities. I also extend my fraternal thanks to the Country’s Bishops, together with all those who collaborated in organizing this festive meeting of the Successor of Peter and the Maltese People. The history of this People, almost 2,000 years old, is inseparable from the Catholic faith that characterizes its culture and traditions. It is said that there are at least 365 churches in Malta, “one for each day of the year”, a visible sign of this profound faith!

In his address when he met with the Maltese authorities, civil society and the diplomatic corps in the “Grand Council Chamber” of the Grand Master’s Palace in Valletta on Saturday 2 April 2022, Pope Francis said: I greet you cordially and I thank you, Mr President, for your gracious words of welcome on behalf of your fellow-citizens.  Your ancestors showed hospitality to the Apostle Paul in his journey to Rome, treating him and his travelling companions “with unusual kindness” (Acts  28:2).  Coming from Rome, I too am now experiencing that same warm hospitality, a treasure that the Maltese people have handed on from generation to generation.

Even Pope St John Paul II greatly highlighted the theme of hospitality during his apostolic journey to Malta when he addressed the President of the Republic of Malta at Grand Mater’s Palace of Valletta on Friday May 25, 1990: Ladies and Gentlemen: I am deeply grateful for the kindness and hospitality with which you have welcomed me. As I continue my Pastoral Visit, I cordially invoke upon you and upon all the beloved people of Malta the abundant blessings of Almighty God.

In his letter to the Romans St Paul speaks about the great intrinsic value of hospitality. In this pericope he does not limit himself only to welcome the other on a superficial level but also includes forgiveness and doing good to those who do evil. At the end of this passage he gives us a splendid principle on what hospitality is really all about. He writes:

Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 12:12-21).

St Paul, our dear father in faith, you have taught us to welcome one another and live in peace with each other. Today, in your feast day when you were shipwrecked on the shores of our beloved Island Malta, help us, by your prayers to be hospitable to everyone. Counsel us to forgive and always do good to those who hate us. Encourage us to keep the teaching you gave us, particularly on marriage, the family, sexuality, moral principles and, most of all, in being united with Christ and his everlasting values. Dear Paul, we Maltese follow you, Malta follows you, as you follow Jesus in the eternal pastures of the Heavenly Jerusalem. Amen!

Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap