VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis will visit the Mediterranean island nation of Malta on May 31, the Vatican said Monday, confirming the Pope's first foreign trip for the year.
Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna said he expected the visit would highlight the need for Malta to welcome migrants, despite its small size.
The Pope has reminded the world that “We need to welcome each other, to forgive each other, and to welcome migrants who knock on the shores of our islands seeking a safe haven and human dignity," Scicluna said in announcing the visit.
In December, Francis met with outgoing Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who resigned amid the fallout of the investigation into the 2017 murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Scicluna suggested the continuing crisis of the murder would also be addressed during the visit, saying Maltese would take the opportunity of Francis' visit “to heal wounds that have wounded our social fabric."
Malta's two top churchman are very close to Francis.
Scicluna is the Vatican's longtime sex crimes prosecutor who helped turn Francis around on the issue after the Argentine pope botched his handling of the abuse scandal in Chile. Scicluna is based in Valletta but also retains a senior position in the Vatican office that handles abuse cases.
Bishop Mario Grech heads the Catholic Church on the Maltese island of Gozo. He was named by Francis last year to take over the Vatican office that coordinates the synod of bishops, the meetings to debate matters of importance to the church.
As a bishops conference, they were among the first to actively endorse Francis' opening to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments.
Pope John Paul II visited Malta twice during his quarter-century papacy, and Pope Benedict XVI visited once in 2010.
Other rumored trips for Francis include a visit to Indonesia and East Timor in the second half of 2020.