"Spontaneous hospitality and thoughtful gestures communicate something of God's love. And the hospitality of the Maltese islanders is repaid by the miracles of healing that God works through St. Paul on the island. So if the people of Malta were a sign of God's Providence for the Apostle, he too bore witness to God's merciful love for them," Francis said Jan. 23.
In that audience, the pope went on to connect the idea of Christian hospitality to the need to welcome migrants, a likely thematic focus of the trip.
The Vatican announcement on Feb. 10 coincides with the feast of St. Paul's Shipwreck, a major public holiday in the Republic of Malta.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">We Maltese have started celebrating the Solemnity of the Shipwreck of Saint Paul on the Islands (10 February). All the 276 persons on the ship were saved and the Maltese showed them unusual kindness! (Acts 28:1-10). Viva San Pawl! <a href="https://t.co/jXmekgRBvT">pic.twitter.com/jXmekgRBvT</a></p>— Bishop CJ Scicluna (@BishopScicluna) <a href="https://twitter.com/BishopScicluna/status/1226610803022929921?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 9, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
More than 80% of Malta's population of 493,559 are Catholic, according to the Times of Malta. However, Mass attendance has fallen in recent decades in the traditionally Catholic country.
Malta and Gozo are two of the three major islands that make up the Maltese Archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea, 50 miles south of Italy.