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VALLETTA, Malta (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis is forging ahead with his apostolic journey to Malta despite fierce backlash from faithful Catholics on the island nation.
Malta's strategic significance in the Russia-Ukraine conflict is also a factor influencing public sentiment regarding the papal visit.
Although a highly placed clerical source in the archdiocese of Malta speculated to Church Militant on Thursday that the papal visit would be canceled, the Holy See Press Office published Francis' itinerary Friday.
Church Militant reported Wednesday on mounting opposition to Francis' visit scheduled for April 2–3, five days after the country's general elections, which the pro-LGBTQ+ socialist Labour Party is expected to win.
Philip Beattie, president of Pro Malta Christiana, told Church Militant that Malta's archbishop, Mgr. Charles Scicluna, should have recognized the trip not as an opportunity for evangelism but for political opportunism.
"The visit will be manipulated by the party that wins the elections, probably the socialists, for party political ends. The visit's religious significance and spiritual dimension will be totally obscured if it takes place as planned," Beattie noted.
In a letter to Malta's apostolic nuncio Msgr. Alessandro D'Errico on Monday, Beattie warned if Francis' visit proceeds as scheduled "the new, incoming government will, in some way, be 'canonized' by His Holiness."
Several priests have threatened to boycott Francis' journey and have asked the hierarchy to consider postponing the trip, even though Abp. Scicluna pushed for it to go ahead.
Scicluna, a pro-LGBTQ+ prelate who is currently embroiled in a land-grab scandal on the island, is expecting to be crowned head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. According to financial crime consultant Kenneth Rijock, Scicluna is keen to leave the island following the papal visit.
Rijock earlier launched a scathing attack on the timing of the visit. He warned, "This strictly religious event could well be manipulated by teeming thousands of Labour supporters waving Maltese, Vatican and LGBT flags."
Rijock slammed Scicluna for his "very cozy rapprochement with Malta's socialists" and his failure to call for the postponement of the papal visit:
Malta's archbishop, Msgr. Charles Scicluna, should have enough intelligence to uncover this ruse, assuming he really desires the spiritual welfare of the Maltese nation. Any local religious leader worth his salt should immediately request the Vatican to cancel Bergoglio's visit to Malta forever and distance His Holiness from Maltese partisan political shenanigans.
But, given that Scicluna "is tipped for a cardinal's hat and a top appointment in Rome," there is every indication that the last thing he would want is "to rock the boat and delay a visit to the Maltese archdiocese by his boss," Rijock remarked.
Malta's Partit Laburista ("Labour Party") headed by current prime minister and lawyer Robert Abela, has a significant lead in the polls over the Partit Nazzjonalista ("Nationalist Party") led by lawyer Bernard Grech.
While the Labour Party is a member of the Socialist International and the European Union group Socialists and Democrats, the Nationalist Party is pro-LGBTQ+ and favors mass illegal immigration by Muslims.
The only authentically conservative party in the traditionally Catholic country is the Partit Popolari ("People's Party"), led by Paul Salomone.
While the People's Party affirms "the right to life also fully applies to babies before birth" and promises to "oppose any attempt to introduce abortion in Malta," Abela favors a "discussion on abortion" even though he claims to be personally against killing the unborn.
Meanwhile, citing a report from The Telegraph, a Maltese clerical source told Church Militant "Malta has become the latest target of Russian activity" and "the Pentagon is worried that Moscow might be trying to use Malta as a naval base."
Further, a quarter of all applicants for Malta's "golden passport" scheme, which allows high-income individuals to acquire a Maltese passport within one to three years, are Russian citizens.
The source also stressed "Russian collusion" could acutely embarrass the Maltese hierarchy, which received €850,000 in August 2021 raised from the sale of passport funds to floodlight the Sanctuary Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady in Mosta. The church was elevated to the status of a basilica during the pontificate of Francis.
Amid European Union (EU) and United States sanctions, Russian oligarchs have been snapping up Maltese passports, which allow them unrestricted access to Europe.
Prime Minister Abela has refused to say whether Malta will continue to allow Russian nationals to buy Maltese citizenship in the face of new sanctions on Russia. Russian citizens could sidestep EU sanctions since they would legally be considered Maltese citizens.
The National Development and Social Fund (NDSF), which administers income from the sale of passports, has so far received €599.8 million from the scheme.
"All this could prove to be acutely embarrassing to Pope Francis on the global geopolitical stage as he becomes increasingly vocal in opposing the Russian advance into Ukraine," the clerical source said.
The pontiff was originally scheduled to visit Malta on May 31, 2020, but the apostolic journey was postponed due to the coronavirus panic.
The pope is keen to visit the island to reinforce his pro-migrant message, especially as Malta, due to its geographical location, is the southernmost point of entry into the European Union for mostly Muslim illegal immigrants from the Middle East and Africa.
Francis' visit, using the theme "they showed us unusual kindness," is expected to highlight the plight of migrants who traverse the Mediterranean toward Europe. It refers to the hospitality shown to St. Paul by the Maltese when the Apostle was shipwrecked on the island in A.D. 60.