The Maltese Constitution proclaims Catholicism to be the official religion, notwithstanding established protections for religious freedom.
Roman Catholicism is the most widely practiced religion in Malta. The Maltese Constitution defines Catholicism as the official religion, which is also represented in many aspects of Maltese culture.
In Malta, Gozo, and Comino, there are around 360 churches, or one for every 1,000 inhabitants. The parish church (Maltese: “il-parroa” or “il-knisja parrokkjali”) is the architectural and geographic center of every Maltese town and hamlet, as well as the source of civic pride. This municipal pride is on display at the local village festas, which celebrate the patron saint of each parish with marching bands, religious processions, special Masses, pyrotechnics (particularly petards), and other festivities.
Malta is an Apostolic See; the Acts of the Apostles speaks of St. Paul being shipwrecked on the island of “Melite,” which many Bible scholars identify as Malta, on his journey from Jerusalem to Rome to stand trial, an event that occurred about AD 60. St. Paul spent three months on the island on his journey to Rome, as recounted in the Acts of the Apostles, healing the ill, including the father of Publius, the “principal man of the island.” This story is linked to a number of different traditions. The shipwreck is believed to have happened at what is now known as St Paul’s Bay. Saint Publius, a Maltese saint, is said to have been made Malta’s first bishop, and a grotto in Rabat, now known as “St Paul’s Grotto” (and in the vicinity of which evidence of Christian burials and rituals from the 3rd century AD has been discovered), is one of the island’s earliest known places of Christian worship.
Catacombs under different locations throughout Malta, notably St Paul’s Catacombs and St Agatha’s Catacombs near Rabat, just beyond the walls of Mdina, provide further evidence of Christian activities and beliefs during the time of Roman persecution. The latter were especially well-frescoed between 1200 and 1480, but invading Turks damaged several of them in the 1550s. There are also a number of cave churches, such as the grotto at Melliea, which is a Shrine of the Nativity of Our Lady and tradition has it that St. Luke painted a portrait of the Madonna there. It has been a pilgrimage site since the Middle Ages.
According to the Acts of the Council of Chalcedon, a certain Acacius was Bishop of Malta in 451 AD (Melitenus Episcopus). It is also known that a certain Constantinus, Episcopus Melitenensis, attended the Fifth Ecumenical Council in 501 AD. Pope Gregory I dismissed Tucillus, Miletinae civitatis episcopus, in 588 AD, and the clergy and people of Malta chose Trajan as his successor in 599 AD. Before the conquest of the islands, the last documented Bishop of Malta was a Greek called Manas, who was afterwards imprisoned in Palermo.
According to Maltese historian Giovanni Francesco Abela, the Maltese maintained their Christian faith despite the Fatimid invasion after their conversion to Christianity at the hands of St. Paul. Malta is described in Abela’s works as a divinely appointed “bulwark of Christian, European culture against the expansion of Mediterranean Islam.” In the 12th and 13th centuries, immigration to Malta from Italy strengthened the local Christian population that welcomed Roger I of Sicily.
For centuries, the Church in Malta was subject to the Diocese of Palermo, except when it was under Charles of Anjou, who chose bishops for Malta, as did the Spanish and, subsequently, the Knights on rare occasions. Since 1808, all Maltese bishops have served. Malta became the devoted Catholic country that it is today as a consequence of the Norman and Spanish eras, as well as the authority of the Knights. It is worth mentioning that the Office of the Inquisitor of Malta had a lengthy stay on the island after its foundation in 1530: the last Inquisitor left the Islands in 1798, when the Knights surrendered to Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops. Several Maltese families moved to Corfu under the Republic of Venice. Their descendants make up about two-thirds of the 4,000 Catholics who currently reside on the island.
Malta’s patron saints are Saint Paul, Saint Publius, and Saint Agatha. Although not a patron saint, St George Preca (San or Preca) is highly regarded as the second Maltese saint to be canonised after St. Publius Malta, Malta’s first recognized saint (canonised in the year 1634). On June 3, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI canonized him. In addition, a number of Maltese people have been declared Blessed, notably Maria Adeodata Pisani and Nazju Falzon, who were beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2001.
Malta is home to a number of Roman Catholic religious orders, including the Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans, and Little Sisters of the Poor.
The majority of the congregations of the local Protestant churches are not Maltese; their congregations are drawn from the numerous British pensioners residing in the island as well as tourists from many other countries. There are around 600 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the area. Each of the Churches of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), the Bible Baptist Church, and the Fellowship of Evangelical Churches has about 60 affiliates. Other denominational churches include St. Andrew’s Scots Church in Valletta (a mixed Presbyterian and Methodist congregation) and St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, as well as a Seventh-day Adventist church in Birkirkara. In 1983, a congregation of the New Apostolic Church was established in Gwardamangia.
The Jewish population of Malta peaked under Norman control in the Middle Ages. Malta and Sicily were annexed by the Aragonese in 1479, and the Alhambra Decree of 1492 compelled all Jews to flee the nation, allowing them to take just a few things with them. Several hundred Maltese Jews may have converted to Christianity to stay in the nation during the time. There is now just one Jewish congregation.
Zen Buddhism and the Bahá’ Faith both have about 40 adherents.
The Mariam Al-Batool Mosque is the only Muslim mosque in town. A Muslim elementary school was just established. Of the estimated 3,000 Muslims in Malta, roughly 2,250 are immigrants, 600 are naturalized citizens, and 150 are Maltese by birth.