Pope visits Malta grotto of shipwrecked St. Paul
Pope Francis will visit the grotto Sunday where St Paul lived after washing up on Malta, on a trip to the island nation dominated by calls for better treatment of migrants.
According to Christian tradition, the Apostle Paul was shipwrecked on the tiny Mediterranean island in the year 60 AD, and performed several miracles in his three months there.
The grotto, at the Basilica of St Paul in Rabat, is an important place of pilgrimage and was also visited by former popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI in 1990 and 2010 respectively.
On Saturday, Pope Francis cited the help given to St Paul on arrival as an example of how modern-day Malta should treat visitors.
"Let us open our hearts and rediscover the beauty of serving our neighbours in need," he said at the national shrine of Ta' Pinu.
The 85-year-old's weekend visit to Catholic-majority Malta has been overshadowed by the war in Ukraine, with the pontiff on Saturday condemning those "provoking and fomenting conflicts".
But the refugee crisis triggered by Russia's invasion feeds into a wider theme of his papacy -- the need to welcome those fleeing war, poverty or climate change.
Malta is on the frontline of the route from North Africa into Europe and thousands of people who risked the crossing in overcrowded boats have ended up here.
But charity groups have accused Malta of turning a blind eye to desperate people in its waters, and Pope Francis on Saturday reminded the archipelago of its status as a "safe harbour".
He added that other countries must also step in, saying "the growing migration emergency -- here we can think of the refugees from war-torn Ukraine -- calls for a broad-based and shared response".
After saying a prayer at the grotto, Pope Francis will preside over an open-air mass in Floriana, near the capital Valletta, with a crowd of 10,000 people expected.
Run for the past five decades by a Franciscan friar, now 91, it already hosts around 55 young men from different parts of Africa who arrived on Malta without any legal papers.