Thursday, February 9, 2012

Malta's National Holy Day

An original painting of St Paul's shipwreck, by Fortunino Matania
February 10 is the National Holy Day of Malta. It is different than a holiday, because even though Independence Day is on September 21, and Republic Day is December 13, while Victory Day is September 8, in the heart of the majority of the people, this is the feast when Christianity arrived to the shores of Malta. It’s the day we celebrate the feast of the shipwreck of Saint Paul on the island of Malta in the year 60 AD. It’s strange that people celebrate a tragic event which could have been even more catastrophic, but none of the sailors were killed on that eventful day, thanks to the protection of St Paul, who was accompanied by St Luke on their way to Rome. The people of Malta are described in the Bible as welcoming, courteous and generous, a tribute that had come down over two millennia and something that characterizes the heart of the Maltese people.

The 2 small islands of St Paul in Malta where St Paul was shipwrecked in 60 AD

This is how the Acts of the Apostle relates this historic day: “Once we had reached safety we learned that the island was called Malta. The natives showed us extraordinary hospitality; they lit a fire and welcomed all of us because it had begun to rain and was cold. Paul had gathered a bundle of brushwood and was putting it on the fire when a viper, escaping from the heat, fastened on his hand. When the natives saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “This man must certainly be a murderer; though he escaped the sea, Justice has not let him remain alive.” But he shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no harm. They were expecting him to swell up or suddenly to fall down dead but, after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god. In the vicinity of that place were lands belonging to a man named Publius, the chief of the island. He welcomed us and received us cordially as his guests for three days. It so happened that the father of Publius was sick with a fever and dysentery. Paul visited him and, after praying, laid his hands on him and healed him. After this had taken place, the rest of the sick on the island came to Paul and were cured. They paid us great honor and when we eventually set sail they brought us the provisions we needed.” (Acts 28: 1-10)

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