Address of the Grand Master to the diplomatic corps
The Grand Master of the Order of Malta, Fra’ Matthew Festing, received at the Magistral Villa on the Aventine the Ambassadors of the 102 countries accredited to the Order for the audience of the beginning of the new Year.
Here is the address of the Grand Master.
Monsieur le Doyen, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am particularly happy today to welcome the members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Order of Malta on the occasion of the traditional ceremony of exchange of greetings at the beginning of the New Year, as my predecessors have always done for the past.
I wish first of all to express my sincere thanks for the kind words that the Ambassador of Honduras, H.E.Valladares Lanza has addressed to me in the name of the diplomatic community, in his capacity as Dean of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Order. I would also like to extend to him my congratulations for having become the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps to the Holy See.
(Fra’ Andrew Bertie)
On behalf of our Order, I wish to express our gratitude for the heartfelt acknowledgement of the death of our recently deceased Grand Master, Fra’ Andrew Bertie. In your kind words and letters we were reminded of the great impact he made on our world.
HMEH Fra’ Andrew Bertie, Grand Master of the Sovereign Order of Malta, will remain in the history of the Order as a Prince and Grand Master who knew how to give to the Order the vitality and willingness to follow the ideals and the objectives that for centuries have been shown to be its vocation: to be inspired by Faith translated into a mission of salvation for the most needy in society, the sick and the poor. Fra’ Andrew, by his own personal sanctity, took forward in great humility his dedication to the Order.
Following his education within the Benedictine tradition, he became a teacher .He took solemn vows as a professed Knight in 1981. After many years in Rome, and serving on the Sovereign Council since 1981, he was then elected 78th Grand Master in 1988. This marked a happy moment in both his life and, I dare to say, the near thousand- year history of our Order.
Fra’ Andrew took active part in discussions, always leaving space for his guests to put forward their opinions and thoughts, creating an atmosphere of exchange of ideas which was always cordial. His extensive culture and knowledge of many languages created opportunity for open dialogue and exchange of views on current and world events affairs. But what will always be remembered by so many of us was the sanctity of his character, his deep spirituality.
As Grand Master he combined intelligence with dignity and authority in this challenging chapter in the history of Europe. He fought against the growth of secularization and relativism. He worked to maintain the unique global character of our ancient religious Order so as to have it recognized as a Religious Lay Order, while independent as a sovereign subject of international law. In so doing, the Order adds its voice its moral forces and its humanitarian efforts – to those of the Roman Catholic Church.
Once again, I would like to thank you, Excellencies, for the consideration and the respect you showed to him during his long tenure as Grand Master, as well as your kindness throughout his declining days. We were moved by the outpouring and homage many of paid to him while he laid in our church of the Aventine, and those who could attend the private funeral Mass presided by H.Em. Cardinal LAGHI, Cardinal Patronus of the Order, and the solemn state memorial Mass celebrated by H.Em. Cardinal SODANO in the presence of the President of Italy, H.E. Giorgio NAPOLITANO, and many other dignitaries and officials, together with 80 official diplomatic delegations from throughout the world.
(Order’s recent achievements)
I would like to highlight some of the most striking and recent achievements carried out by the Order during the year 2008:
– In Georgia, where the war in August 2008 produced over 100,000 refugees.
Thanks to a special flight offered by the President of Poland, the Polish Association of the Order, with the help of both our ambassador to Poland and our Chargé d’affaires in Tbilisi, has been able to provide volunteers, food, medicines, and surgical sets since the 14th of August. For three weeks, the Order’s team of eight doctors worked in six refugee camps around the city of Gori and then set up a clinic in a school close to the Order of Malta’s embassy in Tbilisi. Donations made by the Grand Magistry, Grand Priories and National Associations of the Order have provided for the financing of medicines, food and other essential items.
– In Myanmar, where we have been working since 2001.
The Order of Malta’s worldwide relief service, Malteser international, was among the first to assist the victims of the devastating Nargis cyclone in early May 2008, with over 1.5 million homeless. Malteser International provided medical supplies and safe drinking water as well as relief items such as soap, blankets, cooking equipment and mosquito nets to more than 100,000 people. The Order of Malta was the point of reference for channelling international Catholic aid. Malteser International is still rebuilding health centres and schools; it is also rehabilitating ponds and wells and constructing rain water collection tanks. In addition, specially trained voluntary counsellors offer psychosocial care to the survivors, helping them to cope with the loss of their relatives and friends; their work is ongoing.
– In the Democratic Republic of Congo devastated by a year-long civil war that caused enormous flows of refugees the Order is engaged in essential programmes for the distribution of food and medical and well as psychological services. The Order distributed over the last months 1.000 tons of food supplies to more than 6,000 families who have had to flee because of the conflict in North Kivu, in the region of Bukavu. There are more than 30.000 internally displaced persons in the region. The distribution is financially supported by the World Food Program. Malteser International has started the targeted identification of internally displaced persons who have been the victims of traumatic experiences, such as raped women, people who have been forced to witness massacre or execution, families who have been violently torn apart. We expect to increase our engagements during the coming months, as we try to come as close as possible of the conflict zone in the North.
– in Bethlehem, Over the past years, our Holy Family Hospital has become the most important maternity and child health care centre in the district of Bethlehem. 44.000 babies – most of them Muslims – were born in the Order’s Hospital since 1990. While in 2002 only 37% of all births in the district occurred here, this figure rose to as much as 67% in 2008. At present, almost 100% of high risk deliveries take place in our hospital.
– in Germany, for the first time in its history, the Order of Malta has acquired a school, taken over from the Oblates of the Virgin Mary near Dusseldorf; this high school has 1.300 pupils and 75 teachers. It is for the Order a new commitment to educating future generations, along the Catholic moral principles.
– also our German Association was honoured to have been awarded the prestigious Westphalian Peace Prize for its youth group in recognition of their altruistic help for young people with handicaps in areas of war and crisis. Our youth group runs summer holiday camps for disadvantaged children and young people in homes and orphanages in the Lebanon and in Jordan.
– in the world, where the economic and moral crisis concerns everybody. Even though the process of economic globalization over the last two decades has reaped great benefits for many countries and populations of the world, we are now living through a serious global financial and economic crisis. The crisis is quickly spreading over all parts of the world, including to the less developed countries. It is in some of these countries, in the poorest and most vulnerable groups of their societies, that we are likely to see the most negative effects. We will join with the international community to cooperate in all possible ways to address the suffering of those in need.
At the same time, whilst the number of armed conflicts is increasing, the respect for humanitarian law is on the decline. As the International Institute for Humanitarian Law of San Remo reported recently, the Geneva Conventions are disregarded in many places of the world: violations of these rules are committed on purpose. Rape of women has become a means of war, civilians, especially women and children, are targets of marauding soldiers or rebels. The access of humanitarian relief to the suffering population is often denied. We must speak and act together against these crimes, and against these violations of established international humanitarian law.
(Relations with Italy)
I wish to underline the very fruitful relationship between Italy and the Order of Malta. Our excellent bilateral relations are proven not only by the recent State visit I paid to the President of the Republic H.E. Giorgio NAPOLITANO at the Quirinal Palace, and by the visit the President of the Senate H.E. Renato SCHIFANI made at the Magistral Palace, but also by the numerous bilateral agreements and common initiatives we carry on in the fields of hospital management and healthcare through the Italian Association, and emergency rescue provided by our Military Corps. Let me thank once again our respective Ambassadors.
I am particularly proud of what the Order’s Italian Emergency corps is achieving with the Italian Coastguard. We are working together to assist the immigrants in the Channel of Sicily. On 11 and 12 October, I went to the island of Lampedusa to meet the Italian Coastguard’s patrol officers and sailors, with whom doctors, nurses and helpers of the Order of Malta’s Italian Emergency Corps are working. Beginning in 2008, they have provided medical assistance on board the Coastguard’s ships to over 2,500 immigrants — dozens of children, including the newborns, and pregnant women. The most frequent pathologies are dehydration and malnutrition, chemical burns, sunstroke, injuries from falls, and cuts and grazes of varying seriousness.
This is a noble, beautiful and difficult humanitarian mission carried on in the Mediterranean. Thanks to the Italian Marine and to the Coastguard, the Order of Malta is able to continue our historic presence and action in the Mediterranean.
(Relations with the Holy See)
I wish to underscore and express my gratitude for the relationship we enjoy with the Holy See. We greatly enjoyed the traditional annual audience granted to the government of the Order by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI on the feast day of our Patron Saint John the Baptist. We shared with the Holy Father our desire to seek vocations to our Order, particularly the recruitment of the religious our future professed knights, and younger members. He was encouraging on all of these points, and of our activities in the Middle East and Africa.
I wish also to acknowledge the excellent relations we hold with the highest ecclesiastical hierarchies of the Holy See. I am especially grateful for the solicitude His Eminence the Cardinal Secretary of State has personally showed to me, and to the Grand Magistry, since my election in March of last year. I would like also to thank the Apostolic Nuncios with whom our embassies work so fruitfully in so many of your countries.
An important and symbolic illustration of these close relations was the signing of a postal agreement the 53rd – between the State of the City of the Vatican and our Magistral Mail Service an historic event for our respective postal services, whose joint activity shall allow us to raise funds for humanitarian initiatives determined by mutual agreement. I would like to thank His Eminence the Cardinal President of the Governorate of the Vatican City State for this demonstration of mutual trust and promise for our future collaboration.
Another example of these relations is the financing of scholarships for young Orthodox priests from Russia and Belarus. Young men are being sent to Rome by their respective Patriarchates in order to complete their theological studies. This has been made possible through work with the Pontifical Council for promoting Christian Unity.
I wish to extend my welcome to the Ambassadors of Serbia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Ukraine and Egypt who are taking part in this audience for the first time today.
Our institutional relations gratifyingly increased over the last twelve months. The Sovereign Order of Malta now has bilateral diplomatic relations with 102 countries. The most recent to join the already long list of nations were Ukraine, the Bahamas and Sierra Leone. We have also established official relations with Canada, to our great mutual satisfaction.
In 2008 we received official visits of the Presidents of Rumania, Albania, East Timor; of the Vice Prime Minister of Bulgaria, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Slovakia, Belarus and Hungary. Let me mention the kind visit made by the Grand Duke and the Grand Duchess of Luxemburg to the late Grand Master, a few days before his death. I must here recognise the courageous act of the Grand Duke in refusing to sign the legislation proposed in his country for the legalization of euthanasia. We admire his action.
Since my election, I was invited in State visits in Latvia and in Croatia where I had meetings with their Presidents; I will take this opportunity to again thank their respective Ambassadors for the great interest and excellent organisation of these visits. A delegation of the Order led by the Grand Chancellor was also invited in Lithuania, and had the honour to be received officially by its President. We are encouraged by your outreach and look forward to building on this initial dialogue.
We also had the pleasure to receive the 62nd President of the United Nations’ General Assembly, Dr KERIM, which allowed us to state the importance the Order attaches to the multilateral diplomacy which promotes peace through constant dialogue amongst nations, and to reaffirm our full support to the work achieved by the United Nations. It is under the guidance of my predecessor that, with the backing of Italy, the Order obtained in 1994 its statute of permanent Observer to the UN, where we maintain permanent missions in New York, Geneva, Roma, Vienna and Paris.
Our hope is to build and maintain our spiritual mission of Knights Hospitallers.
Our principal mission has been the same since the XIth century – the service to the poor, to the sick. We also wish to contribute to intercultural dialogue, as recommended by Pope Benedict XVI.
The Order’s large and growing diplomatic network is a result of the trust and acknowledgement of your governments of the international, neutral and non-political status we enjoy. We are encouraged by the unique trust and recognition we share, allowing us to work with States in every region and every ethnic and religious tradition throughout the world. We will continue to dedicate ourselves to working with you for the welfare of the poor and the sick wherever there is a need.
It also allows us to provide humanitarian assistance or mediation in the midst of conflicts of international character as well as those occurring within individual states, provided that all parties to a conflict take steps to assure the safety and security of the humanitarian personnel, as required by the Geneva Conventions. Relief, rehabilitation, reconciliation and peacemaking go hand in hand and often it starts with very little steps.
We are a relatively small entity dealing in a large and complex world. We know that your reliance on is based on truth and integrity of purpose. I will, in a few short days, preside over the International Meeting of the worldwide leadership of our Order. With nearly 400 delegates from the five continents I will examine the mission of the Order and our spirituality in action. I will remind them that we have been blessed by our association with you and your governments, and challenge them to consider ways that we can work more effectively with you to serve the poor, the sick and the refugees.
I encourage you to stay in close touch with the Order and our activities, and to call on us when you think that we can collaborate with you in providing assistance to those in need.
Dear Ambassadors and members of your diplomatic missions, let me tell you how much we are proud to maintain such close and confident relations with your countries, and how much we appreciate your personal availability.
We wish you peace and hope in 2009.
All my best wishes to you and to your families, and for the prosperity and harmony of the Nations that you so worthily represent.