Sunday, April 18, 2010

Acts 28: The Pope in Malta

This weekend, the Pope is enjoying a brief sojourn in Malta, a tiny island off the southern coast of Italy. I check myself: given the seething anger over the Catholic sex abuse scandal, it's unlikely that the Pope is enjoying much of anything these days. But a few days away from the Vatican are likely a welcome respite for Benedict.

As the Times reports
, the Pope's visit coincides with the 1950th anniversary of Saint Paul's shipwreck on the Mediterranean isle. (An international trip to celebrate the 1950th anniversary of a boat sinking ... really? What's next? A trip to Nazareth to mark 1997 years since Jesus got his learner's permit?)

The story of Paul's unexpected arrival is told in the 28th chapter of Acts:

"After we had reached safety, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The natives showed us unusual kindness. Since it had begun to rain and was cold, they kindled a fire and welcomed all of us round it. Paul had gathered a bundle of brushwood and was putting it on the fire, when a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, ‘This man must be a murderer; though he has escaped from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.’ He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were expecting him to swell up or drop dead, but after they had waited a long time and saw that nothing unusual had happened to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god" (28: 1-6).

Today, Malta is home to many Catholics, and its "natives" have indeed welcomed Benedict with kindness (though some have suggested that the pontiff seems to be fleeing "justice"). However, in the wake of a spate of recent missteps, it is unlikely that many are mistaking the him a god.

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