Pope Benedict has prayed in the grotto of St Paul, the heart of Malta's Christian heritage, as the first day of his two-day visit to Malta approaches its conclusion.

The Pope was given a warm and enthusiastic welcome by thousands of people in Rabat, but the spiritual rather than the celebratory element of his visit, came to the fore as he knelt, alone before the white statue of St Paul beneath St Paul's Church.

Pope Benedict spent some four minutes before the statue, sometimes with eyes closed, and sometimes looking at the statute. He then stood and led prayers which were relayed to the crowd outside.

The Pope is to deliver an address outside the church before going to the Apostolic Nunciature, where he will spend the night.

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