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Pope expected to visit Malta

President George Abela and his wife Margaret with the Pope during a visit to the Vatican last June.

President George Abela and his wife Margaret with the Pope during a visit to the Vatican last June.

Pope Benedict XVI has accepted an invitation to visit Malta for a day next year to mark the anniversary of St Paul's shipwreck that brought Christianity to the island.

Archbishop Paul Cremona said following the invitation by Maltese bishops and, more recently, by President George Abela, the Pope's visit is expected to take place at the end of April or the beginning of May.

Details of the Pope's programme will be determined after a team from the Vatican visit Malta, between October 14 and 16, to access the feasibility of the trip and plan it.

"The Pope has expressed that he wishes to come to Malta. Now it depends on next month's visit," Mgr Cremona said, adding the visit was "almost definite".

He said the Maltese bishops would have liked the Pope to come to Malta to mark the Pauline year that closed in July, but this had not been possible.

It was then suggested he visit in April 2010 to mark the anniversary of St Paul's shipwreck in Malta 1,950 years ago.

"I have met Pope Benedict XVI before and I was always impressed by the way he smiled when I mentioned I was the Archbishop of Malta... According to my interpretation, this is because our faith can still be felt even though we do have challenges to face as a nation," he said.

Since he became Pope in 2005, Pope Benedict has made 12 apostolic visits outside Italy. This month he will visit the Czech Republic.

The Pope's visit to Malta would be the third visit of a Pontiff to the island.

His predecessor, John Paul II, who became Pope in 1978, visited the island twice over a span of 11 years. The first three-day visit was in May 1990, his 48th apostolic trip outside Italy.

The second visit was even more significant as he beatified Dun Gorg Preca (who has since become a saint), Adeodata Pisani and Nazju Falzon during the visit.

Pope John Paul II had also arrived in Malta on May 8, 2001, on the last stop of a pilgrimage in the footsteps of St Paul, which also took him to historic visits to Greece and Syria.

St Paul's shipwreck has been the source of a strong link between Malta and the Vatican.

Last year, Pope Benedict declared a year dedicated to St Paul, known as the Pauline Year. In Malta, the diocese of Malta and Gozo organised various initiatives to celebrate the year.

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