VALLETTA, Malta — Pope Francis prayed for the world to show more kindness and compassion to refugees as he paid tribute Sunday in Malta to the shipwrecked St. Paul and meets 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 being shipwrecked en route to Rome in AD 60. According to the biblical account of the period, Maltese people showed Paul unusual kindness, and he responded by preaching and healing, bringing Christianity to the islands.
“No one knew their names, their place of birth or their social status; they knew only one thing: that these were people in need of help,” Francis said in a prayer in the cavernous grotto. “Help us to recognize from afar those in need, struggling amidst the waves of the sea, dashed against the reefs of unknown shores.”
Francis has used his two-day visit to Malta to drive home his call for Europe to show the same welcome to migrants and refugees as the Maltese showed St. Paul. Francis has expanded that message to express his gratitude for the welcome Europe has shown Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian war and his hope that same generosity could be extended to others.
Current-day Malta has long been at the heart of the European debate over refugee policy. The country of a half-million is frequently criticized by humanitarian aid groups for refusing to let rescue ships dock at its ports; The government argues it has one of the EU’s highest rates in processing first-time asylum applications relative to the population, and says other, bigger European countries should do more to shoulder the burden.
Just this week, a German aid group urged Malta to take in 106 migrants rescued off Libya; Malta demurred and on Saturday the mayor of Palermo, Sicily, said the city was ready to welcome them.
Francis is wrapping up his trip with an outdoor Mass in Valletta and an afternoon visit to a shelter run by volunteers that can house around 50 migrants and provide them with educational and medical services. Most of its current occupants hail from Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan and made the perilous Mediterranean crossing from Libya.
The trip, though short, has been particularly taxing for the 85-year-old pontiff, who is suffering from painful strained right knee ligaments. He had to use an elevator to get on and off the plane and his limping gait from sciatica has appeared more pronounced.