By Junno Arocho Esteves
GOZO, Malta – Malta’s great spiritual and pastoral traditions should serve as a roadmap for the future of the Catholic Church, rather than a relic commemorated by “received traditions, solemn celebrations, popular feasts and moments powerful and moving,” said Pope Francis.
“We need a faith founded and constantly renewed in the personal encounter with Christ, in daily listening to his word, in active participation in the life of the Church and in authentic popular piety,” said the Pope on April 2 during an outdoor prayer service. Ta’ Pinu National Shrine.
“The crisis of faith, the apathy in religious practice, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic, and the indifference shown by many young people towards the presence of God; these are not issues to be ‘watered down’, thinking that, all things considered, a certain religious spirit still endures,” he said.
After meeting with diplomats and government and civil leaders in Valletta, the pope traveled by catamaran to the island of Gozo, one of the 21 islands that make up the Maltese archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. Sitting in a white chair at the bow of the catamaran, Pope Francis took in the view of Maltese architecture and the pristine blue Mediterranean as pilgrims stood along the coast, waving to him.
As the ship pulled into Mgarr harbour, he was whisked away in a white Fiat 500 before boarding his popemobile. Arriving at the national shrine, the pope greeted the approximately 3,000 pilgrims gathered outside by waving flags in the papal colors of yellow and white.
First built as a chapel in the 16th century, the Ta’ Pinu National Shrine was rebuilt on the site two centuries later to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims who visited it after Mary allegedly appeared to a woman in 1883 and asked him to pray in the chapel. , which was in poor condition.
Pope Pius XI designated it a minor basilica in 1932.
During the prayer service, several Catholics testified to their faith and what the shrine means to them and to the countless pilgrims who visit it each year.
Sandi and Domenico Apap, along with their daughter Nicole, son-in-law Christian and granddaughter Thea, told the Pope how their faith sustained them after Sandi was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Despite the difficulties, she says, “the greatest sign the Lord has given me has been his love and closeness” through his family.
The pope thanked the couple and their family for their “persevering love” and their “testimony of faith”.
Jennifer Cauchi told the story of the Marian apparition to Pope Francis and said, even today: “Mary continues to call and give hope to the pilgrims who come to visit her: young people, the elderly, families , religious men and women”.
“Here everyone feels welcomed and everyone can lay their sufferings and their joys at Mary’s feet,” Cauchi said.
Recalling his words, the pope said St. John Paul II was among the many pilgrims who visited the shrine to venerate Mary.
The shrine “which once seemed abandoned is now revitalizing faith and hope among God’s people,” he said.
The church, he continued, should “be centered on witnessing and not on certain religious customs” and should also go out and proclaim the Gospel rather than “being a closed circle”.
The pope told pilgrims that signs of brotherly love, especially towards migrants and refugees, remain a “litmus test to assess how truly evangelical the Church is.”
Like Mary and John, who chose to remain at the foot of the cross with Jesus rather than remain hidden, Pope Francis said Christians cannot accept each other “only in the shelter of our beautiful churches, while ‘outside so many of our brothers and sisters are suffering’. , crucified by pain, poverty and violence.
“Your geographical position is crucial, overlooking the Mediterranean; you are like a magnet and a port of salvation for people shaken by the storms of life who, for various reasons, land on your shores. It is Christ himself who appears to you in the faces of these poor men and women,” the pope said.