The Vatican announced Monday that Pope Francis will visit the islands of Malta and Gozo on May 31.
The one-day trip is the first and only international journey officially on the pope’s schedule for 2020.
Malta is named in the Acts of the Apostles as the site where St. Paul was shipwrecked on route to Rome in 60 A.D. The theme of the papal trip is taken from chapter 28 of the book of Acts: “They showed us unusual kindness.”
Pope Francis praised the Biblical account of the hospitality of the people of Malta during one of his general audience reflections on the Acts of the Apostles last month.
“Spontaneous hospitality and thoughtful gestures communicate something of God’s love. And the hospitality of the Maltese islanders is repaid by the miracles of healing that God works through St. Paul on the island. So if the people of Malta were a sign of God's Providence for the Apostle, he too bore witness to God’s merciful love for them,” Francis said Jan. 23.
In that audience, the pope went on to connect the idea of Christian hospitality to the need to welcome migrants, a likely thematic focus of the trip.
The Vatican announcement on Feb. 10 coincides with the feast of St. Paul’s Shipwreck, a major public holiday in the Republic of Malta.
We Maltese have started celebrating the Solemnity of the Shipwreck of Saint Paul on the Islands (10 February). All the 276 persons on the ship were saved and the Maltese showed them unusual kindness! (Acts 28:1-10). Viva San Pawl! pic.twitter.com/jXmekgRBvT
— Bishop CJ Scicluna (@BishopScicluna) February 9, 2020
More than 80% of Malta’s population of 493,559 are Catholic, according to the Times of Malta. However, Mass attendance has fallen in recent decades in the traditionally Catholic country.
Malta and Gozo are two of the three major islands that make up the Maltese Archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea, 50 miles south of Italy.