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Discovering “unusual kindness” in St Paul’s islands

Malta, the famous sun-drenched archipelago in the central Mediterranean, holds a special place in Christian history. With an uninterrupted Christian tradition of more than 2,000 years, Malta is undeniably one of the cradles of Christianity. Tradition recounts the dramatic shipwreck of St. Paul on its shores in 60 AD, an event credited with introducing Christianity to the islands. A pilgrimage to the archipelago explores the evocative sites associated with St. Paul’s stay, offering a unique blend of faith-based tourism and scholarly intrigue.

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’ Pinu

The Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament (Acts 28:1-10) recounts the perilous journey of Paul, a prisoner en route to Rome for trial. A ferocious storm, described as a “[…] violent windstorm […] called Euroclydon. (Acts 27:14) battered their ship, eventually driving it aground on an island identified as “Melita” – the ancient name for Malta. The account vividly describes the shipwreck and the remarkable hospitality of the Maltese people:

“The natives showed us unusual kindness. They made a fire and welcomed us all because of the rain that was falling and because of the cold”. (Acts 28:2)

Our pilgrimage begins in Mdina, the ancient capital of Malta, steeped in history and mysticism. Here, according to tradition, St. Publius, a Roman official of noble birth, offered hospitality to Paul. Converted by Paul’s teachings and miraculous healings, Publius is believed to be the first bishop of Malta. Mdina’s imposing cathedral, Mdina Cathedral, is a testament to the island’s enduring Christian heritage. Some traditions claim the cathedral is built on top of what once was Publius’ house.

Mdina St Pawl Cathedral

A short drive away is St. Paul’s Grotto, an underground chapel carved into the limestone cliffs. Revered as a place of refuge for Paul during his three-month stay, the grotto now houses a poignant statue depicting the shipwreck.

St. Paul’s Grotto at Rabat

Malta’s extensive underground network of Roman-era hypogea (or catacombs) adds another layer to the pilgrimage. While their direct connection to St. Paul remains controversial for some, these underground cemeteries offer a glimpse into the lives of early Christians. The serenity of these sacred spaces invites reflection on the lasting impact of Paul’s mission.

The culmination of this pilgrimage is the Collegiate Parish Church of St. Paul’s Shipwreck in Valletta. This magnificent 16th century church, adorned with art depicting scenes from Paul’s life, serves as a living symbol of the faith he brought to Malta. Here, pilgrims can join in worship, light a candle for guidance and immerse themselves in the spiritual heart of the island.

Following in the footsteps of St. Paul is more than a historical journey; it’s a testament to the transformative power of faith. Malta’s rich tapestry of Pauline sites offers a unique opportunity to connect with the past and gain a deeper appreciation for the enduring legacy of St. Paul in the Mediterranean.

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