There’s something about arrivals. Malta is a city of honey-colored ancient stone that lines the harbor in walls, homes and churches. Light and geometry create images that speak to the imagination. Carravagio painted here. And as the ship sails into this ancient landscape, it’s possible to imagine history’s story unfolding.
Malta is a place of mosaics. A gateway between Africa and Europe, its geography and history of conquest has transformed it into a country where cultures have collided over time and shaped themselves into something new.
Paul is everywhere here. St. Paul’s Cathedral gave birth to 365 Roman Catholic churches throughout the small country, one for every day of the year.
We visited the underground, cave-like cell, where Paul was held as a prisoner for three months. We also prayed and sang together in a Baroque cathedral in Mdina that bears his name. The legacy of one man’s faith astounds.
Paul swam to Malta. The wood Roman galleon, which carried him and 276 others, was shipwrecked off the coast, after being battered at sea for 14 days. The shipwreck was part of his adventure as he took risks to spread the Gospel. Too often in our lives, we settle for an easy, more comfortable faith. In Paul’s journey we’re reminded, “Ships in port are safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.”
In a square in Mdina, we walked over a Maltese cross, created by the Knights of St. John during the Crusades. Its eight points represent the beatitudes and its four arms remind us of the four Christian virtues of justice, prudence, temperance and Christian fortitude, which the poeple at my dinner table promptly translated as “guts or Christian chutzpah.”
It’s Sicily, bella
As we traveled through the ruins of a Greek ampitheater and the surrounding quarry, where slaves worked and died to create the Roman Empire, God seemed present in small and unusual ways. A cave, hollowed out by centuries of water and decades of slave labor, created an echo chamber. Inside we sang hymns and the hall was made hallowed by the sound.
Our tour guide, Atilio, pointed out a simple Acanthus leaf, growing by the walkway. These leaves, he explained, were the inspiration for Corinthian columns. Their shape gave form to the decorative tops of the columns, which now hold up temples to art, democracy and God throughout the world.
In Syracuse, Archimedes was born in the third century before Christ. On the bus each day we have devotions. Bill Buckman of Kentucky explained how this one man, and his “Eureka” inventiveness altered the course of history. “Give me a lever long enough, and a prop strong enough,,” Archimedes said. ” I can single-handed move the world.”
I imagine something similar might be said of Paul — give him a moment to proclaim and lives might be transformed.
Bill is a radiation physicist. His sense of the sacred seems to come through reason and science. During devotions, Joyce Buckman read all of us on the bus a children’s story about Jesus coming to her house. It’s been a very long time since I’ve been read to. I was amazed at how comforting and special it felt — almost like a lullaby. In this small moment on the road on Sicily, reason and story merged and blended into prayer.