Valletta, Malta — Pope Francis concluded his two-day trip to the Mediterranean island of Malta on April 3 by telling the deeply Christian country that once hosted the Apostle Paul to find the same spirit of hospitality today in welcoming newcomers. from Africa and the Middle East.
“These same people we see on crowded boats or adrift in the sea, on our televisions or in the newspapers, could be any of us, or our sons or daughters,” the pope said. by meeting some 200 migrants from Libya, Nigeria, Senegal and Ukraine, among other countries, here in Malta.
“Since the day I visited Lampedusa, I have not forgotten you,” the pope said, recalling his first-ever papal trip outside Rome in 2013. There he castigated the “globalization of indifference” towards the plight of migrants and refugees and cemented migration as one of the signature issues of his papacy.
“You are always in my heart and in my prayers,” Francis said on Sunday.
The pope’s remarks came at a reception center for Maltese refugees during a trip booked by face-to-face meetings with those still reeling from having to flee their home country.
Before leaving the Vatican on Saturday, April 2, the pope met with refugees who had recently arrived in Rome after fleeing war in Ukraine. In Malta on Sunday, April 3, the pope heard first-hand accounts from a Libyan and a Nigerian who had been rescued at sea.
As the pope made his way to the reception center, crowds of onlookers gathered to express their support for the refugees, including chanting “close the skies over Ukraine” and “protect our children”.
“There are people whose asylum application has been rejected but who still cannot return to their country of origin because it is still dangerous for them to do so,” said Siriman Colibaly, who currently lives with him. his wife in Malta after fleeing Libya. “It’s not just stories and numbers, but it’s us, flesh and blood people, faces – some with shattered dreams, others who have made them come true.”
Francis responded by saying that in the same way that many migrants like Colibaly dream of a safer and more stable life, as Pope he dreamed of migrants experiencing a better welcome and ‘greater kindness across the world – a kindness he said he hopes they will then share with others.
“I believe it is very important that, in today’s world, migrants become witnesses of these human values that are essential for a dignified and fraternal life,” Francis told them. “These are values that you carry in your heart, values that are part of your root.”
Throughout Sunday, the Pope reflected on the life of the Apostle Paul, who took refuge in Malta for three months after being shipwrecked on the island. Here, according to the Gospel of Luke, he was greeted with “extraordinary hospitality” by the locals who met him.
“Shipwreck is something that thousands of men, women and children have experienced in the Mediterranean in recent years. Unfortunately, for many of them it ended in tragedy,” Francis said during of the meeting at the Pope John XXIII Peace Lab, which continues to provide hospitality and shelter to recent newcomers to the country, despite the Maltese government’s insistence to the European Union that the country can no longer accept more refugees.
“Yet in these events, we are witnessing another kind of shipwreck: the shipwreck of civilization, which threatens not only migrants, but all of us,” he continued. “How can we save ourselves from this shipwreck that threatens to sink the ship of our civilization? By behaving with kindness and humanity. By looking at people not just as statistics.
Before meeting the migrants, Francis celebrated an open-air mass for around 12,000 pilgrims and visited the grotto where St. Paul stayed during his time in Malta around AD 60.
“Help us to recognize from afar those who are in need, struggling in the midst of the waves of the sea,” the pope prayed in the grotto.
In recent years, several thousand new arrivals have been rescued at sea and disembarked in Malta, but, according to Sara Zingariello of Jesuit Refugee Services Malta, there were no new arrivals in 2022 due to a controversial agreement between Malta and Libya.
In exchange for additional funding from Europe, Libya has agreed to step up its efforts to stem the flow of those trying to cross from Africa and Europe. As a result, increasing numbers of refugees are being detained at sea and returned to their countries of origin, often with limited legal remedies and with great threat to their personal health and safety.
Zingariello told NCR she thinks the pope’s short stay in Malta could serve as a reminder of the country’s heritage of hospitality.
“I think it’s a message of hope and, then, an insistence that our arms and our hearts be open,” she said. “This should be an opportunity for us as Maltese society to reflect on this message and reflect on our own understanding of migration.”
While acknowledging that the issue of migration always comes with “natural fears and challenges”, she believes there is a “way forward that respects everyone’s rights”.
As the pope bid farewell to migrants before returning to Rome, that was his message too.
“I hope Malta will always treat those who land on its shores, offering them a real ‘safe harbour,'” Francis said.