Pope Francis prayed for the world to show
more kindness and compassion to refugees as he paid tribute Sunday in Malta to
the shipwrecked St. Paul and meets with migrants who, like the apostle, arrived
on the Mediterranean island and were welcomed.

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Francis opened his second and final day in
Malta by visiting the Grotto of St. Paul in Rabat, where the disciple stayed
after being shipwrecked en route to Rome in AD 60. According to the biblical
account of the period, the Maltese people showed Paul unusual kindness, and he
responded by preaching and healing, bringing Christianity to the islands.

“No one knew their names, their place
of birth or their social status; they knew only one thing: that these were people
in need of help,” Francis said in prayer in the cavernous grotto.
“Help us to recognize from afar those in need, struggling amidst the waves
of the sea, dashed against the reefs of unknown shores.”

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Francis has used his two-day visit to Malta
to drive home his call for Europe to show the same welcome to migrants and
refugees as the Maltese showed St. Paul. Francis has expanded that message to
express his gratitude for welcoming Europe has shown Ukrainian refugees fleeing
the Russian war and his hope that the same generosity could be extended to

Current-day Malta has long been at the
heart of the European debate over refugee policy. The country of a half-million
is frequently criticized by humanitarian aid groups for refusing to let rescue
ships dock at its ports; The government argues it has one of the EU’s highest
rates in processing first-time asylum applications relative to the population
and says other, bigger European countries should do more to shoulder the

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Just this week, a German aid group urged
Malta to take in 106 migrants rescued off Libya; Malta demurred and on Saturday
the mayor of Palermo, Sicily, said the city was ready to welcome them.

Francis is wrapping up his trip with an
outdoor Mass in Valletta and an afternoon visit to a shelter run by volunteers
that can house around 50 migrants and provide them with educational and medical
services. Most of its current occupants hail from Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan
and made the perilous Mediterranean crossing from Libya.

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The trip, though short, has been
particularly taxing for the 85-year-old pontiff, who is suffering from painful
strained right knee ligaments. He had to use an elevator to get on and off the
plane and his limping gait from sciatica has appeared more pronounced.