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Invoking 'shadows of war', Pope urges Malta to be migrant 'safe harbor'

3. Pope
Pope Francis (back center) speaks during a meeting of prayer outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta' Pinu, in Gharb, Gozo island, Malta, on April 02, 2022, on the first day of the Pope's two-day trip to the Mediterranean archipelago. (Photo: AFP)
VALLETTA — Pope Francis reminded Malta of its roots as a "safe harbor" in his first visit to the Mediterranean island nation Saturday, warning it not to succumb to isolation and fear amid migrant crises on multiple fronts.اضافة اعلان

The 85-year-old pontiff's visit to the archipelago, delayed two years due to the coronavirus pandemic, comes as war in Ukraine has unleashed Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II, with more than four million fleeing the country.

Invoking "the dark shadows of war" spreading across Eastern Europe and castigating those "provoking and fomenting conflicts", Francis similarly recalled the ongoing influx of migrants from the south who try to cross the Mediterranean to reach the island shores of Malta, given its strategic position south of Sicily and to Africa's north.

"According to its Phoenician etymology, Malta means 'safe harbor'," the pope said in his opening address to Maltese dignitaries, including Prime Minister Robert Abela, at the Grandmaster's Palace, the former seat of the Knights Hospitaller who ruled Malta for centuries.

"Nonetheless, given the growing influx of recent years, fear and insecurity have nurtured a certain discouragement and frustration," Francis said, warning against "adopting an anachronistic isolationism". 

Don't look away

Malta, with a population of just over a half a million inhabitants, has argued it is unfairly penalized for its geographic position and takes a disproportionate share of migrants arriving by sea from North Africa, given its small size.

The heavily Catholic country has c ome under fire by charity rescue groups patrolling the Mediterranean, charging that Maltese authorities turn a blind eye to migrants in peril in its waters. 

"The growing migration emergency — here we can think of the refugees from war-torn Ukraine — calls for a broad-based and shared response. Some countries cannot respond to the entire problem, while others remain indifferent onlookers," the pope said.

Addressing the conflict in Ukraine, in what appeared to be a barely veiled reference to Russia's Vladimir Putin, Francis said "some potentate, sadly caught up in anachronistic claims of nationalist interests, is provoking and fomenting conflicts..."

Before departing the Vatican Saturday for the two-day trip, Francis met Ukrainian refugee families newly arrived in Rome.

Asked by a reporter on the papal plane about a possible trip to Kyiv, the pope said a visit to Ukraine's capital was "on the table".

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