VALLETTA, Malta (AP) — Pope Francis prayed for the world to show more kindness and compassion to refugees as he paid tribute to the shipwrecked St. Paul in Malta on Sunday and met with migrants who, like the apostle, arrived on the Mediterranean island and were welcomed.
Francis opened his second and final day in Malta by visiting the Grotto of St. Paul in Rabat, where the disciple stayed after his shipwreck en route to Rome in AD 60. According to the Biblical account of this period, the Maltese showed unusual kindness to Paul, and he responded by preaching and healing, and bringing Christianity to the islands.
“No one knew their names, their place of birth, or their social status; They only knew one thing: that these were people who needed help,” Francis said in a prayer in the cavernous grotto. “Help us see the needy from afar, struggling amidst the waves of the sea and hurled against the reefs of unknown shores.”
Francis has used his two-day visit to Malta to spread his call to Europe to be just as welcoming to migrants and refugees as the Maltese have shown St Paul. Francis expanded this message to express his gratitude for the welcome Europe has shown to Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian war and his hope that the same generosity could be extended to others.
Contemporary Malta has long been at the center of the European debate on refugee policy. The country of half a million people has often been criticized by humanitarian organizations for refusing to allow rescue ships to dock in its ports; The government argues that it has one of the highest rates in the EU at processing first-time asylum applications, relative to population, and says other, larger European countries should do more to shoulder the burden.
Just this week, a German aid group called on Malta to take in 106 migrants rescued from Libya; Malta refused and on Saturday the mayor of Palermo, Sicily, said the city was ready to welcome them.
Francis concludes his trip with an outdoor mass in Valletta and an afternoon visit to a volunteer-run shelter that can accommodate about 50 migrants and provide them with educational and medical services. Most of its current residents are from Somalia, Eritrea, and Sudan, making the perilous Mediterranean crossing from Libya.
The journey, while short, was particularly tiring for the 85-year-old Pope, who suffers from painful ligament strains in his right knee. He had to use an elevator to get on and off the plane and his limping gait from sciatica appears to be more pronounced.
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