The formal announcement of Pope Francis’ two-day visit to the Maltese Islands in April was greeted with jubilation. For such a small country like Malta to have hosted three different pontiffs in 30 years is a blessing. This time around the Papal visit comes at a time when this country, which historically stood out as a bastion of Christian and traditional values, is in crisis. Since the visit of Pope Benedict XVI the Maltese landscape has changed drastically, and not only in an aesthetic sense.

Though Malta’s population is still overwhelmingly Catholic, at least on paper, attendance to Mass has continued to dwindle, divorce has been legalised and there is ample evidence that abortion could soon follow suit. Clearly, the Church is losing its influence and Malta is fast becoming a secular country. Whether that is good or bad, is a subjective matter. However, this crisis goes beyond the confines of the Curia. It has attacked universal values like tolerance, solidarity, social justice and human dignity. Sadly, many a time we are hearing about corruption, greed and exploitation which are leaving a scar on society and even the environment. What is even more serious is the fact that some of these ‘sins’ are being perpetrated by those who should be leading by example including politicians, and people in authority.

Though the details of his visit are yet to be announced, the Head of the Church, will be under the spotlight throughout the entire visit, especially his sermons, remarks and appeals. Pope Francis is renowned for his outspokenness. Nothing seem to be off limits for this pontiff. While we cannot speculate on the content of his speeches, should the Pope address the serious crisis in values which has gripped this country, he will have plenty to dwell upon. But this is where the real test of this papal visit lies. While, thousands will flock to greet His Holiness and get a glimpse of the Pope, the legacy of this visit will depend on whether the Maltese will embrace his message. Some politicians might be relishing the visit as a means of public relations, especially if the general election will not have been held by then. However, they know perfectly well that you cannot run with the hares and hunt with the hounds. It is all about choices. You may serve the devil or you may serve the Lord, but you cannot serve both. If they are so keen to portray themselves as a living example of strong values, the litmus test is not the television cameras but their conduct throughout the legislature.