We flew down in the middle of a storm - November/December is notorious in Rome for rainy, nasty weather. It was very apropos though, being that St. Paul was shipwrecked on Malta during his trip to Rome and stayed there for three months (c.f. Acts chapter 28). However, airplanes aren't as forgiving of wrecks, so I am glad we landed safely!
We were able to see several of the Pauline sites. Remember that this is the year dedicate to St.Paul (http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_paolo/index_en.html)
The statue above is of St. Paul and is located in the grotto at Rabat (just outside of the ancient city of Mdina - and no, that is not a misspelling, the Maltese language is very strange - having phoenecian origins and a splattering of Arabic and latin). This is the location that is known to be where Paul stayed while on the island.
Below is Fr. Matthew striking a match in the grotto - it was literally a bunch of holes in the ground that had been dug out as living spaces. There was not light so we had to improvise:
It turns out we made our own version of Chiaroscuro which was also apropos being that Caravaggio was once a Knight of Malta and lived on the island for a while (you will have to google or wiki that one because this blog entry is going to be long enough as it is) - on a related note the Cathedral in Valletta has a huge Caravaggio painting of the beheading of St. John the Baptist one of the patrons of the order and the namesake of the co-cathedral)
We were able to have mass in the Grotto. The country is almost 95% Catholic and the churches seemed to be filled on Sunday (which is unfortunately a rare site in most of Europe). It was a nice treat when our Taxi driver asked if he could join us for mass! It was a beautiful testament to the faith that they had received some two thousand years ago from St. Paul himself.
One of the days we rented a boat to actually go to the little rock outcropping traditionally held to be the place where St. Paul's boat wrecked.
This is a picture of the huge statue erected on the rock:
As you can see there are blue skies behind - the weather was gorgeous with clear skies and warm temperatures (we were the envy of all the guys back in rainy and cold Rome:-) We even jumped into the sea for a little swim - very nice!
Another one of the reasons we went to Malta was also to see the location of the Great Siege of 1565. What a great story that is! As a matter of fact one of the reasons that Western Europe is still Christian and not Muslim (at least for the time being) is because the Christian Knights of Malta were successful in holding out in their fortifications against the Turkish invasion. The battles of the 16th century were fought to preserve the European Heritage with the Christian Faith being at the forefront of this realty. The Great Siege of Malta is right up there with the defense of Vienna by Sobieski, and the defeat of the Turkish Fleet at LePanto by Don Juan of Austria.
The Valiant Knights of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights of St. John for short, or the Knights of Malta after this great feat, held off over 40,000 turkish invaders with only 9,000 men women and children to defend their little island! The Knights of Malta are still in existence today.
This is a picture of me taken in front of some of the forts on the island:
We took a nice Boat Tour of the Grand Harbour were much of the siege took place.
Then we had a nice lunch on a rooftop terrace restaurant overlooking the harbour:
The restaurant is located in the city of Valletta, named after the Grand Master of the Order during the Great Siege who very bravely led the band of knights to victory. This city was built on the site of some of the most brutal fighting where the bravery of the Knights was very much proven. They held out here till the last man perished - in effect saving all the rest of the population across the harbour by slowing down the advance of the Turkish forces.
It was a nice meal too;-)
We also went to the Palace Armory to see all the medieval warfare equipment:
Two suits of armour to go, please!
Finally, I will leave you with a very touching reminder of what our whole life is about. On a little rock outcropping in the middle of the inland sea is a stark scene that reminds us of who we are and why we do what we do:
It couldn't be clearer than that.