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Fra’ Matthew Festing’s State Visit to Austria

Rome, 02/03/2012

Meetings with State Leaders and in the UN Offices in Vienna

During Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing’s State visit to Austria, the Federal President Heinz Fischer praised the Order of Malta’s humanitarian commitment and international projects. In Hofburg Palace in Vienna the President and Grand Master discussed, inter alia, the humanitarian tragedy in Syria, the Arab Spring and the “Dialogue of Civilizations” conference to be held in the Austrian capital in February 2013.

“In 1956 when I was a young student,” President Heinz Fischer said during the press conference following the meeting, “I demonstrated against the Soviet troops’ brutal repression of the Hungarian revolution.  During that difficult situation I admired the dedication of the Order of Malta’s young volunteers who had come from other countries to help the Hungarian refugees.  Austria and the Sovereign Order of Malta,” the President continued, “are linked by 800 years of history.  This signifies 800 years of harmonious cooperation, especially in the humanitarian sector”.

The Grand Master expressed his personal gratitude to the President for the continual support the Austrian central and local government has given to the Malteser Hospitaldienst, the Grand Priory of Austria’s hospitaller division. In 2011, “the Order’s volunteers performed over 100,000 hours of welfare services, providing assistance to the disabled, first-aid, ambulance transportation and emergency aid during natural disasters. Particular attention was paid to the elderly, to those living alone and to the disabled”. The Grand Master thanked the Austrian people for their generous donations to the hospital the Order runs in the Palestinian territories and to the specific projects implemented in Pakistan, Haiti, East Africa and Japan.  Thanks to this lavish contribution, the Order has been able to help 326,000 needy people.

In the evening, President Fischer offered a State banquet in the Grand Master’s honour in Hofburg Palace, attended by over 100 people including ministers, ambassadors, religious authorities and personalities from the economic and cultural worlds.

The Grand Master’s Meetings
During his visit, the Grand Master had talks with the Federal Chancellor Werner Faymann and with the Vice-Chancellor and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger. The programme also included a meeting with the Mayor of Vienna Michael Häupl.

During the Grand Master’s visit, two ambulances were donated to the Grand Priory of Austria for first-aid services.

Visit to the UN and Signature of Two Cooperation Agreements
In Vienna, the Grand Master was received by the Director General of the United Nations Office, Yury Fedotov.  The talks touched on matters of mutual interest such as trafficking in human beings, anti-corruption measures, HIV/AIDS, prevention and treatment of drug abuse among the young and the social problems involving violence against women.

On this occasion the Grand Chancellor Jean-Pierre Mazery signed a joint statement between the Order of Malta and UNODC, UN Office on Drugs and Crime, concerning cooperation in sectors of mutual interest. Yury Fedotov expressed his satisfaction at this initiative: “I’m confident that a closer cooperation with the Order of Malta will give greater publicity and exposure to the UNODC campaigns, and especially those for preventing human trafficking, drug abuse and corruption”.

The Grand Master then met Yukiya Amano, Director General of IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, with the aim of supporting the Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT).  This programme has been developed by IAEA to help developing countries improve their capacities in cancer care tasks and create regional radiotherapy centres of excellence.

Visit to Styria
The Grand Master and his delegation then travelled to the Styria region in the south-east of the country.  Here they were guests of the Grand Priory of Austria and visited the Order of Malta’s local activities.

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