The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’ Pinu on the Maltese island of Gozo. / Xanella22 via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Vatican City, Feb 25, 2022 / 08:30 am (CNA).
The Vatican released Pope Francis’ travel schedule on Friday for his first international trip of 2022.
The pope is expected to make a two-day visit to Malta on the weekend of April 2-3.
According to the schedule released by the Vatican, the pope will travel by catamaran between Malta and Gozo, the two largest islands in the archipelago officially known as the Republic of Malta.
This is not the first time that a pope has traveled on a catamaran. John Paul II was transported by catamaran during his 1990 visit to Malta, inspiring the name for the largest high-speed catamaran in the Mediterranean Sea.
John Paul II also traveled on what some journalists referred to as “the Pope Boat” in the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, Canada, in 1984.
Pope Francis will depart Rome on ITA Airways on the morning of April 2. He will be welcomed to Malta by President George Vella and Prime Minister Robert Abela at the Grand Master’s Palace in the capital, Valletta, where the pope will also deliver a speech to the country’s civil authorities.
The pope will set off by catamaran on the afternoon of April 2 for the island of Gozo, where he will preside over a prayer meeting at the National Shrine of Ta’ Pinu.
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’ Pinu became a popular pilgrimage destination for the Maltese in the late 19th century after a farmhand named Carmela Grima said that she heard the voice of the Virgin Mary, who called her to pray there.
The original chapel of Ta’Pinu, meaning “of Philip,” dates back to the 16th century, but it received so many pilgrims that a larger basilica shrine was constructed at the site from 1920 to 1931.
After the prayer meeting, Pope Francis will return by ferry in the evening to spend the night at the apostolic nunciature on the island of Malta.
On the second day of his trip, Pope Francis will meet with Jesuit priests and seminarians at the nunciature before visiting the Grotto of St. Paul in Rabat to pray.
According to tradition, the grotto is where Paul the Apostle lived and preached during his three-month stay on the island of Malta in 60 A.D.
The grotto is located in the small church of St. Publius, which is a part of the Basilica of St. Paul complex.
Pope Francis will offer a Mass and pray the Angelus at The Granaries in Floriana, the largest public square in Malta, at 10:15 a.m. on the Sunday.
In the afternoon, the pope will meet with migrants at the John XXIII Peace Lab, an immigration reception center in Hal Far, before he departs by plane on Air Malta that evening.
The theme of the pope’s trip is taken from the Book of Acts 28:2: “They showed us unusual kindness” (Acts 28:2).
An overwhelming majority of Malta’s roughly half a million population are baptized Catholics. Catholicism is the state religion under the Constitution of Malta.
Pope Francis had initially planned to visit the country in the central Mediterranean Sea on May 31, 2020, the Solemnity of Pentecost. But the Vatican announced that the trip had been “postponed until further notice” in March 2020 amid the coronavirus crisis.
The Vatican published the schedule for Pope Francis’ trip to Malta on Feb. 25, the same day that it also announced that Pope Francis had to cancel his scheduled trip to the Italian city of Florence.