Pope spends birthday in the Vatican, prepares for Malta

.- Just one day before his first Apostolic Journey for 2010, Pope Benedict XVI is celebrating his 83rd birthday today. This afternoon he will spend some time resting as the final preparations are being made for his whirlwind trip to the Mediterranean island of Malta.

The Holy Father will spend his birthday in the Vatican, before an event-filled weekend in Malta.

Besides separate morning audiences with Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, who is the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, five Brazilian bishops finishing up their “ad Limina” visit and 120 members of the U.S.-based Papal Foundation, no specific plans for the day have been made public.

In the meantime, the island of Malta is preparing for the Pope’s arrival.

He will only be in the island country for a little over 26 hours, beginning with his arrival on Saturday afternoon. Despite the short duration of his trip, the Pope has three major engagements in addition to arrival and departure ceremonies. The Holy Father is expected to be joined by tens of thousands of Maltese at his major events. In anticipation of the crowds, stages have been prepared for Mass in the main "Granaries" square of Floriana and on the capital city of Valleta's waterfront for a meeting with the youth.

The other major stop, is a visit to the Cave of St. Paul in Rabat, thought to have been where the saint preached when he was shipwrecked on the island 1,950 years ago.

Archbishop Paul Cremona of Malta made the final inspections of the venues on Tuesday and everything appears to be in order. Local media has reported that security has been increased for the occasion after plans were announced in the British media of possible demonstrations against the papal visit.

Vatican insiders say that the Pope may also make time during his visit to meet with victims of sexual abuse by priests. Holy See spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, speaking to journalists this week at a press conference about the trip, said that while he couldn’t confirm such a meeting, the possibility couldn’t be excluded.

The possible encounter would follow this week's meeting between Archbishop Cremona and victims, during which an audience with the Pope was requested.

The Holy Father will return from his first trip to Malta on Sunday afternoon, and the following day will mark the milestone of the fifth anniversary of his pontificate.

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