Newly-announced papal trips will denounce the dumping of toxic waste in Italy and the plight of migrants in Malta.

Driving the news

The Diocese of Acerra, in the south of Italy, announced February 8 that Pope Francis would visit the region May 24.

That date coincides with the fifth anniversary of the Pope’s encyclical on care for the Common Home, Laudato si’.

In that text, the Pope deplored that “the pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world”.

In his 2015 ecological manifesto, Francis also showed himself particularly concerned that the Earth “is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth”.

Particularly, but not only, for the fact that “industrial waste and chemical products utilized in cities and agricultural areas can lead to bioaccumulation in the organisms of the local population”, and “[f]requently no measures are taken until after people’s health has been irreversibly affected”.

But that’s precisely what has happened in the “triangle of death” or “land of fires” area around Naples in which Acerra is located, and in which the mafia has been systematically and illegally dumping, burying and burning toxic waste at least since the 80s.

That illegal waste trafficking and exposure to contaminants – not least through the groundwater table – has led to above-average incidents of cancer and death among local residents, according to Italian National Institutes of Health figures.

Acerra bishop Antonio Di Donna said he hoped the first of the papal trips would bring a “strong appeal to public institutions so that the truth finally comes out about our land”, as well as joy and hope to cancer-stricken patients.

Go deeper

The other of the papal trips newly-announced February 10 is that of a visit May 31 to the islands of Malta and Gozo, at the forefront of Europe’s welcome of migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean.

As he has done countless times before, the Pope in Malta will remind the world that “[w]e need to welcome each other, to forgive each other, and to welcome migrants who knock on the shores of our islands seeking a safe haven and human dignity”, Malta archbishop Charles Scicluna said announcing the papal visit Monday.

Francis has consistently defended the dignity of migrants and refugees in his nearly seven years in the Vatican.

Most recently in a video message released last week in which he lamented that “migrants are often victims of criminal human smuggling and human trafficking”, thanks to “corruption on the part of people willing to do anything for financial gain”.

The other issue Scicluna said Francis is likely to address is the ongoing political and social fallout from the corrupt investigation into the 2017 murder of anti-corruption investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Scicluna suggested the Pope’s presence could help the Maltese to overcome the scandal – which has claimed the scalp of former PM Joseph Muscat, among other top politicians – and “to heal wounds that have wounded our social fabric”.

Former Pope John Paul II visited Malta in 1990 and 2001, and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI journeyed there also in 2010.

The Malta sojourn will be Pope Francis’ first trip outside Italy in 2020, a year which is also likely to see papal trips to Indonesia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea in September, and perhaps also Iraq and South Sudan, depending on the political and security situations in those countries.

Next on Novena:

Italian bishops redouble efforts on care for Creation: “We cannot be silent”

Malta archbishop: “If a migrant is banging on our shores, we cannot ignore it”

Malta archbishop embraces asylum seekers: “You are welcome. Feel part of our family”

Malta archbishop repeats call for “truth, justice and accountability” in case of murdered investigative journalist

Pope warns on migrant, human trafficking crises: “Our indifference is a sin!”


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.