Dear brothers and sisters, it is a great honour for me to celebrate Mass with you here in the beautiful parish Church of Saint Publius at Floriana (pictured), Malta. I am very conscious that I’m following in the footsteps of one of my predecessor Archbishops of Armagh, Cardinal Michael Logue, who visited Floriana back in 1895.
Like Cardinal Logue, I have received a very warm welcome and experienced the hospitality for which the people of this island are greatly renowned. Even though this is my very first visit to Malta, I’ve always associated this island with the virtue of hospitality. I’m reminded of course, of the wonderful welcome, described in Acts of the Apostles, which Saint Paul received from the people of Malta when he was shipwrecked here during a storm while on his way to captivity in Rome.
According to chapter 28 of Acts of the Apostles the people of Malta showed Paul and his companions “great kindness, making a fire for them to warm themselves.” It was then that Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake, and when he seemed to suffer no deadly effects, the islanders knew their visitor was a holy man of God.
I found it very moving to be able to pray this week at Saint Paul’s Cave in Rabat, an experience which is only surpassed by being able to celebrate the Eucharist with you tonight in this church which honours Saint Publius, who was Paul’s first great convert to Christianity and first Bishop of Malta.
It has been a joy for me to discover the very warm connections between Malta and Ireland. Today I was a guest of your parish priest, Father Charles Cini, and was given a highly interesting tour of Floriana by Mr Nigel Holland, meeting the president of Floriana FC and the president of Vilhena band club. It was extra special to be joined at lunch by Her Excellency Caroline Whelan, the Irish ambassador to Malta and I am also very grateful to the Maltese ambassador to Ireland Giovanni Buttigieg – a native of these parts – for his suggesting this visit.
I have learned a lot today about the association of Floriana FC and the Vilhena Band with the visit of Cardinal Logue back at the end of the 19th century. It seems that visit sparked the close connection between your football club and “the Irish”. Having been presented today with the green and white shirt, from now on, I will count myself as a new supporter of Floriana! Being a trombone player myself, I was also fascinated to learn about the history of the Vilhena band club and to learn that the band accompanied my predecessor the cardinal in procession as he was leaving Floriana, almost 130 years ago.
We are not absolutely sure why Cardinal Logue came to Malta in the first place, although it’s likely he either was friendly with your Archbishop, or with someone who lived here on the island, or perhaps he simply wanted to pay a pastoral visit to the many Irish people who lived here including those who were billeted in Malta as soldiers. Whatever the reason, the Cardinal’s visit made a deep impression on the people of Floriana, and also on the Cardinal himself.
I believe that the Cardinal, wanting to show his gratitude, supported in Rome the designation of the feast of Saint Publius as a major feast in the liturgical calendar; in return the people of this parish showed their gratitude to the Cardinal by having his portrait (pictured), painted by the great artist Giuseppi Cali – a portrait, which I’m delighted to see still hangs in the Sacristy of this church.
My visit to Floriana this week was to participate as the representative of the Irish bishops at the annual meeting of European bishops conferences CCEE. There were representatives from 36 countries right across the continent of Europe, and we were wonderfully hosted by your Archbishop Charles Sciucluna. During the week, we bishops have been reflecting on the many challenges and opportunities which face the Church in Europe at this time – from war and violence, the defence of life and human dignity, new waves of migration, the hidden persecution of Christians and the new frontiers of artificial intelligence. In prayer and reflection, in some of the island’s beautiful churches, we recommitted ourselves to proclaim in Europe the joy of the Gospel that springs from the encounter with Christ.
Conscious of the terrible war and violence, especially in Ukraine, Palestine and Israel, we reiterated our “no” to war, renewing the call for a definitive ceasefire, release of hostages and for humanitarian corridors to be kept open in Gaza. We also discussed ministry in a synodal Church and the updating of the Charta Oecoumenica for cooperation between Christian Churches in Europe.
My dear brothers and sisters, I am so conscious of the deep long lasting roots of our faith in scripture, tradition, and in the witness of countless, committed Christians – our ancestors in the faith – down through the centuries. I realise the great privilege and responsibility it is to be a Catholic, but also I am very conscious that our faith can only continue to progress and bear fruit in Europe and throughout the world with the help of the grace and mercy of God.
I encourage you, and I bless you, the families of Floriana and Malta. I urge you to continue to keep hospitality, welcome, love and charity at the very centre of your personal life, your family life, your community life and as a core value of life here on this beautiful island.
I thank God for my parents and grandparents and for all who handed on the faith to me. And I pray for the rekindling of faith, hope and love in the Church right across the continent of Europe, so that we can bring to the many troubled people of these times, a glimmer of hope our and the some of the joy brought by encounter and friendship with Jesus Christ, our Lord and saviour.
Saint Paul, Saint Publius and Saint Patrick, pray for us all. Amen.
- Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. This homily was delivered in the parish of the Church of Saint Publius at Floriana, Malta, during the week. Along with fellow Presidents of Bishops’ Conferences from around Europe, Archbishop Martin attended the annual Council of European Bishops’ Conferences plenary assembly in Malta from 27 to 30 November.
- See final CCEE press release here