Pope Benedict's experience in Malta was the subject of his catechesis at Wednesday's general audience in St. Peter's Square. He spoke of the history of faith on the island, provided a review of the highlights of the trip, and called the Maltese a "big family," praising their Christian vision of life.
The Holy Father said that he, just as St. Paul 1,950 years ago, experienced the "warm welcome of the Maltese," which was "truly extraordinary." He expressed his gratitude to the people and leaders of the island, thinking of the deep-rooted Catholic faith there which is "inseparable" from the history of the island.
"For almost two thousand years, the history of that people has been inseparable from the Catholic faith, which characterizes their culture and traditions. It is said that there are 365 churches in Malta, 'one for each day of the year', a visible symbol of this profound faith," Benedict XVI said.
This fact, he said, "all began with that shipwreck," referring to the manner in which St. Paul arrived on the island.
Attributing it to divine Providence, the Holy Father explained that "from that shipwreck ... was born a fervent and solid Christian community, that after 2,000 years is still faithful to the Gospel and strives to unite it with the complex questions of the contemporary times."
This position, said the Pope, is not always easy, but we can see a sign of the people's Christian vision today as evidenced in the existing laws against abortion and divorce.
The Holy Father went on to say that he found "joy" and "consolation" in the warmth of the people there, having perceived the presence of a "big family" that is united by "faith and a Christian vision of life" at Mass at the Granaries on Sunday.
He further praised the island's history of educating its children in "the sense of God and the Church" and its history of priestly vocations, especially those of missionaries who have inherited the "apostolic spirit" of St. Paul.
The "deepest vocation of Malta," contrary to the impression of the fortresses which are a testament to the past need of the island to defend itself, is "Christian, ... the universal vocation of peace!"
During the audience, the Holy Father also remembered his visit with victims of sexual abuse by priests, relating that he "shared their suffering and, greatly moved, prayed with them, giving them assurances of the Church's action" to address clerical sexual abuse.
Turning to the current issues resulting from the arrival of migrants, who use Malta as a stepping stone to Europe, the Pope said that the complex humanitarian, political and legal problems associated with migration must be addressed on an international level.
Bringing his traditional post-trip reflections to a close, the Holy Father added that his hope is in the youth of the island as "potential heirs of the spiritual adventure of St. Paul."
It is the young people who are called, as St. Paul was, to "discover the beauty of the love of God given us in Jesus Christ; to embrace the mystery of His Cross; to be victors in trials and tribulations; not to be afraid of the 'storms' of life, not even the shipwrecks, because God's plan of love is greater even than storm and shipwreck."