Confirmation of Pope Francis's visit to Malta on May 31 was met with applause from a delighted congregation celebrating mass during the feast of St Paul's Shipwreck.
Outside, 70-year-old Mary Rose Borg said that the fact that the feast of St Paul was chosen to make the big announcement - and reveal the date of the papal visit - was apt since "this nice and big news deserves a nice and big feast".
St Paul was shipwrecked around the year A.D. 60 and spent three months on the island, according to the biblical account.
“The Pope’s visit reminds us of the time St Paul came to Malta. He is coming to present God to us and we welcome him with open arms,” said Ms Borg, who lives in Attard but is originally from Valletta.
Lydia Grima, 60, from Fleur de Lys said the news was welcome. “It’s a nice thing that we also get a visit from this Pope and, hopefully, it will do the country good,” she said.
The date was announced on Monday morning when President George Vella read out a letter from the Vatican, confirming the visit on May 31, at the end of a pontifical Mass on the solemnity of St Paul's Shipwreck, on the occasion of the feast of St Paul.
“I remember the two other Popes coming to Malta. There was a nice atmosphere, one of peace. The people like these things and we welcome him,” said Marianne Galea, 57, St Paul’s Bay.
Pope Francis’s visit will be the fourth papal visit in 30 years. St John Paul II visited Malta twice, in 1990 and in 2001, when he beatified Dun Ġorġ Preca, Sr Adeodata Pisani and Blessed Nazju Falzon. His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, visited Malta in 2010.
The Pope coming to Malta is a very nice thing as it means we will have God’s blessing
Lucija Bugeja, 64, travelled all the way from Xaghra Gozo to Valletta to attend the pontifical Mass on occasion of the feast of St Paul. “We are really happy that the Pope is coming. We came all the way from Gozo to attend the feast of St Paul's celebrations and were glad to hear the announcement that he will be coming on May 31.”
Polish tourist Krysztof Lapinski, 41, said the visit was great news for Malta. “I congratulate you for having such a marvelous guest coming to Malta. You have a small country but this means that the Pope remembers about you… It will make Malta very famous in the world.”