It is in Acts 28, 7-10 that there is a mention of Publius in a very prominent way. However this Saint is woven strongly in the Maltese tradition. It was 60AD. Malta was under Roman rule. The Maltese few in number were considered as barbarians because they did not speak neither Latin nor Greek. The Romans had chosen Publius, a Maltese of high prestige to keep order and to administer Roman law on the island. He was given the title of Protos or Prince, as representative of the people.
A ship on its way to Rome with 276 people on board, most of them prisoners, including Saint Paul, was shipwrecked on the Maltese shores. In Acts, St. Luke relates, “ In the neighbourhood, there were estates belonging to the chief man of the island, whose name was Publius. He received us and entertained us hospitably for three days.” At the same time, St. Paul cured Publius’ father who was seriously ill with dysentery.
Publius definitely made sure that during the three months that the shipwrecked people had stayed on the island were provided with basic needs. Besides, he would have made sure that the Maltese had put on board the provisions that were needed when another ship was ready to take the crew and prisoners back on their way to Rome. (Acts 28, 10).
When St. Paul left the island with the others, Publius, not only continued to represent Roman law on the island, but also became a promoter of Christian beliefs. In this sense he started to carry out the role of Bishop on the island of Malta. It is believed that St. Publius was martyred during the persecution of Christians under Emperor Hadrian. The Maltese people are grateful to St. Publius because it is through him and St. Paul, that Christianity reached Malta and continued to thrive since that early time in the history of Christianity.
There are only three lines in Acts where Publius is mentioned. However, one is immediately struck by his earnestness in safeguarding human life. He did not just feel sorry. He was a man of action, organizing for their food and housing, welcoming them all, without being judgemental. It did not make any difference to his attitude that they were prisoners, even though he was not going to gain anything in welcoming them.
Saint Publius was the first Maltese Bishop. After Saint Paul’s Shipwreck, Saint Publius was courageous enough to welcome and hosted him for 3 days, even though he did not know Saint Paul. Saint Publius was a great leader because he kept the Faith alive and was not afraid to be a true witness of Faith in hard circumstances.
Let’s learn more about Bishops!
Watch the below video to learn more how Bishops are selected.