Yesterday the Grand Master received in audience the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Sovereign Order, to exchange greetings for the new year. The meeting was held in Santa Maria del Priorato, the splendid chapel on the Aventine Hill which was designed by Giovan Battista Piranesi.
The ceremony began with an address by the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, the Ambassador of the Republic of Honduras, Mr.Alejandro Emilio Valladares Lanza, who greeted more than 100 diplomats who attended the audience. He noted that the number of nations with diplomatic relations with the Order has increased in recent years, and reviewed the main humanitarian actions carried out by the Order in 2002 to help populations stricken by conflicts and natural disasters.
The Dean mentioned the appeals of the Holy Father to men of good will, to join forces to solve the differences of opinion, conflicts and uncertainties that lead to bloodshed all over the world.
The text of the Grand Master’s reply:
Dean, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all I wish to express my most heartfelt thanks to the Ambassador of the Republic of Honduras, His Excellency Alejandro Emilio Valladares Lanza, for the wishes I received from him on behalf of the Diplomatic Corps credited to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
I send my best wishes in return, in the dawn of this year 2003, to you, to your families and to the populations of the countries you represent. I would also like to acknowledge in particular, Dean, the serious reflections that rise from your speeches about the extremely important events that are occurring in these days, and which cannot leave us unmoved.
Unfortunately, the atmosphere of peace and serenity that reigns in this chapel of Santa Maria of the Aventine, where I have the honour of welcoming you today, does not match with the sense of fear that is now pervading almost all continents.
The threats of armed conflicts are the result of the escalation of violence that is spreading in many parts of the world.
The Holy Land, which should be an oasis of peace, is the theatre of actions of terrorism and repression that take the lives of innumerable innocent victims thousands of men, women and children are struck, in their health or in their life, by the killer attacks of belligerents or by extremists of communities that once used to live together.
Even our Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem was the direct target of the armed forces on two occasions. The maternity ward, which is open to all local residents without discrimination of origin, language, ethnic group or religion, and which before the hostilities accommodated mothers-to-be and newborn babies, is no longer freely accessible. Nevertheless, thanks to the admirable courage and devotion of its entire staff, the hospital was able to administer emergency treatment to almost one thousand mothers and babies, even though the hostilities had restarted.
Faced with this escalation of violence, we cannot refrain from agreeing with the calls for peace formulated with admirable firmness and intensity by the Holy Father, and like him, we pray and hope that men of good will can join their efforts together so that in every field harmony and understanding may conquer the wish to solve by means of brute strength the differences of opinion, conflicts and uncertainties that lead to bloodshed all over the world.
This is another reason why our Order which, in the name of its Christian inspiration, founded its actions on impartial solidarity and a universal vocation of helping the needy should now more than ever pursue its humanitarian and spiritual initiatives.
The Representatives, Observers of the Order, are following with great interest the development security and peace-keeping operations by the troops of the United Nations. The Order has been able to provide medical assistance to the Blue Berets in Africa and in the new States of ex-Yugoslavia. There is a close cooperation with the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees. In fact, the Order has participated in several interventions of primary care in refugee camps and in medium and long-term programmes aimed at helping the refugees to return to their countries and religions of origin. One recent example of this co-operation was our participation in medical training programmes. One of our National Associations has recently been chosen to provide medical support to the UN’s peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan. This distinguished evidence of trust will allow our volunteers and personnel not only to favour the humanitarian and medical initiatives of the UN’s intervention forces, but also to give a direct help to the local populations so badly hit by the conflicts that have torn that country apart.
In returning your wishes, I would like to express in turn, Ambassadors, my most sincere thanks to the States you represent. By recognising our sovereignty, they have stated their will to institute a durable co-operation with us, through the establishment of diplomatic relationships with the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. As a result, in 2002 I received at the Palazzo Malta the official visits of representatives of friendly countries, including the Presidents of the Czech Republic and of the Republic of Hungary, the Heads of State of Nicaragua, Guatemala and Bolivia, a delegation of the Canadian Parliament and a delegation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba.
I also made official visits abroad, travelling to Romania at the beginning of 2002 and to Bolivia in November, where I attended a convention on the development of our humanitarian work and our spiritual actions in Latin America, and then visited the President of the Republic, His Excellency Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, at his residence in La Paz.
I would also like to mention that in December I met His Excellency Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, President of the Italian Republic, a country of great culture and civilization, enlightened builder of the European Union and loyal supporter of peacekeeping and international security actions within the United Nations. As I said to the Head of the Italian State, the Order will not forget how, after the wanderings that followed the banishment of the Knights from the Island of Malta, Italy generously received us and allowed us to establish our seat in this country we love.
Since then, Italy has never failed to give us assistance and support even recently, after the Healthcare Agreement was signed in December 2000, to help us carry out our hospitaller activities in this country, Parliament has been invited to ratify this agreement which is so important to us.
If, as I strongly hope, both Houses vote favourably, we will be able to start re-organising our hospitaller works, particularly at our St. John the Baptist Hospital in Rome, La Magliana, where many Italian knights devote themselves to serving the sick.
Dean, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to conclude my speech thanking you once again for for your presence here today and wishing all of you, your families and the countries you so worthily represent, prosperity, well-being and serenity. I deeply hope that, with the help of God, the desire for peace and collaboration may gain strength in the world and allow us to enjoy the benefits of concord and solidarity.
Villa Malta on the Aventine, 14th January 2003