Sovereign Military Hospitaller
Order of St John of Jerusalem of
Rhodes and of Malta


New Year’s Address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Order of Malta

New Year’s Address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Order of Malta

The Grand Master Fra’ John Dunlap today held the Audience of the beginning of the year with the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. The Audience took place in the Magistral Villa in Rome.

After the speech of the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, the ambassador of Cameroon Antoine Zanga, the Grand Master gave the following address.

M. le Doyen, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Je suis très heureux de vous accueillir aujourd’hui pour la traditionnelle audience du Nouvel An au Corps diplomatique accrédité auprès de l’Ordre Souverain de Malte.

Je remercie sincèrement l’ambassadeur du Cameroun, S.E. Antoine Zanga, pour ses paroles inspirantes et encourageantes.

It is an honour and pleasure to address such a distinguished audience, on the occasion of the exchange of good wishes for the New Year. Although I spoke at this event last year, today is the first time that I shall share with you, my thoughts and views as Grandmaster of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

I should like to discuss the role and relevance of the Order of Malta, an institution that is now in its second millennium of existence. And to fully explain the importance of the Order’s role in the world today, I think it is helpful to understand the significant renewal that the Order has undertaken in the past year; its far-flung activities around the globe; the Order’s view on the many crises that beset us today; and the meaning and value of “Religious Diplomacy” in international relations.

Rediscovering Our Past to Forge Our Future

Much has changed in the course of this past year, and the rapid pace of change that promises to continue into the New Year. A new reform-minded Government was elected at the Chapter General held at the end of last January. Working closely with Cardinal Tomasi, then the Holy Father’s Special Delegate to the Order, and Cardinal Ghirlanda, then the Canon Law Expert assigned to the Chapter General and today our Cardinal Patronus. A new Code and Constitution which strengthened the Order in so many ways was drafted and adopted. Most significantly, the Order emerged from the renewal process with its nature as a Religious Order rediscovered and renewed.

After such a seismic election, there was a clear and dynamic acceleration in the Order’s international activity. This is especially true when one compares the last 12 months to the previous several years. Those years were marked by the aftermath of the disruptions caused by the COVID Pandemic, the unexpected demise of Grand Master Fra’ Giacomo dalla Torre, and the transition to the new Code and Constitution, ushered in by the new Government with new priorities and goals.

As soon as the new government settled in, we embarked upon a number of key diplomatic initiatives. In the second half of 2023, we made a select number of formal visits to the Order’s most important international partners. On June 19th, I visited the Roman Pontiff in the Vatican where I was most warmly received by the Holy Father. In the same moth, I led a delegation to the Republic of Malta, the Order’s island home for many hundreds of years and a great friend of the Order today. In November, we made an Official Visit to the Republic of Italy and were graciously received by the

President of the Italian Republic. There were, of course, historical and traditional reasons for making these Official Visits early in our tenure, as well as the fact that these supportive states often see the world’s problems through the very same lens as we in the Order of Malta

In September, we resumed the ceremonies of Presentation of the Letters of Credentials of Ambassadors accredited to the Order. We held three ceremonies during which nine new Ambassadors presented their credentials. We also received several visits, at the Magistral Palace, of prominent institutional figures from your countries, all of them were most welcome. Among these distinguished visitors were: The President of the Republic of Paraguay, the Presidents of the Parliamentary assemblies of Bulgaria, Canada, Slovakia, Lithuania, the Prime Ministers of Lebanon and Ukraine, the Foreign Ministers of Italy, Armenia, Panama, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Gambia, the Minister of Defence of Italy, the Minister of Health of Armenia and Cape Verde. On some of these occasions we celebrated anniversaries of the establishment of diplomatic relations, some of which date back to the late ‘40s or early ‘50s of the last century.

We not only attach a fundamental importance to the relations of the Order with the embassies accredited to the Order, but we also value informal relationships with other friendly countries, some of which we host today. We held meetings, last October, with a few regional groups, with a view to presenting the mission and the diplomatic and humanitarian activities of the Sovereign Order of Malta. One of our priorities is to broaden the number of countries with which we have diplomatic relations, currently a group of 113 countries that represents almost 60% of the membership of the United Nations. This number has tripled over the last 40 years, from 42 in 1981 to the current 113. The most recent case is that of the Republic of Gambia, with which we signed an agreement last September.

The importance of the expansion of our diplomatic relationships rests on one key factor: we can more effectively address humanitarian crises in Countries with which we enjoy diplomatic relations. It is my fervent wish, and I shall work very hard to make that wish a reality, that the Order establish relations with more countries and regional organisations.

Leading Provider of Humanitarian Aid Across the Globe

The Sovereign Order of Malta undertakes many humanitarian activities across the globe, without distinction as to the regions, political consideration or the status of the beneficiaries from a cultural, religious, or social point of view. The many activities on the ground testify to the genuinely global nature and outreach of our Order.

It is in this outreach that the Order demonstrates its faithfulness to its vocation to serve Our Lords the sick and the poor. The duty to assist the poor is indeed universal, and the Order strives to mirror this universality in its approach to the problems of global poverty. For example, we do not deal exclusively with relief or development aid. We devote as well special attention to the themes of social inclusion and cohesiveness, as we care for the poor, the disabled or the elderly in many

countries that are classified as advanced economies. Sadly, the existence of the “new poor” – that is, the poor living in wealthy states – is a dramatic social reality, and the needs in this regard have increased significantly.

Assisting the poorest and the most vulnerable at the international level, however, requires several conditions, in particular the widespread respect for some basic universal principles and a framework of effective international cooperation. The Order of Malta believes in an international order based on principles of human fraternity and solidarity. This is the reason why the Order upholds the norms of International Humanitarian Law and recognises itself in the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations.

Only an international system based on principles and rules and on mechanisms of mutual co-operation, mediation and peaceful resolution of conflicts can ensure the enjoyment of human rights and a decent life. By decent life, I mean the availability of basic services, such as education, health, the conditions for sustainable economic growth.

The Order’s View of the Today’s Crises

Multilateral co-operation and a system based on universal principles of solidarity are also requisites for dealing with fundamental themes of our time. International co-operation and respect for universal principles must be employed to effectively deal with migration, global health, debt, climate change, energy transition and the many challenges – as well as huge opportunities — posed by the development of the artificial intelligence.

Unfortunately, the international system appears to be moving into the opposite direction. We are confronted with more fragmentation, new divisions and strategic competition and rivalries. The Order is deeply concerned about resistance to the spirit of multilateral co-operation. This is particularly true when we see the United Nations faced with situations where its mandate on Peace and Security cannot be fulfilled because of divisions within the Security Council.

The risks of instability and the areas of crisis and conflict are on the rise. Hence, the immense humanitarian tragedies that are occurring under our very eyes. Ukraine and Gaza are the most obvious cases, but other crises situations are either neglected or overlooked by the international community. As the Holy Father said recently, “We are living through a piecemeal Third World War”.

Whenever a crisis turns into a conflict, the most severe consequences are borne by civilians, and in particular by the most vulnerable groups: children, women, the elderly, the disabled. We have seen it in Ukraine and in Gaza, with daily reports of hundreds of dead and wounded among the civilian population. No civilian infrastructure or social service is being spared: homes, schools, hospitals, factories, roads and so on. Most recently, we have witnessed the deliberate targeting of energy infrastructure, with the goal of cutting off vital energy supplies to the civilian population in the midst of the most difficult weather and living conditions.

We have also seen hospitals and relief operations targeted by combatants with devastating effect. This destruction of vitally important institutions has virtually destroyed the health system for millions of non-combatants, putting whole societies at risk. Such a situation is contrary to the very notion of ethical human behaviour. The Sovereign Order of Malta reaffirms its commitment to an international system based on rules and principles of fraternity, cooperation, and solidarity.

We call, in particular, for respect for International Law, International Humanitarian Law, and the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations. The Order, through its diplomacy, has done so consistently over the last year and it will continue to do so. We have participated in international events; we have spoken in international fora; and we have released statements in which we have clearly reiterated the need for respecting human lives, the neutrality of humanitarian aid, and the protection of the relief workers who bring assistance to those in peril.

Still, the international community needs to do more. All the entities and organisations, whose mandate and vocation are deeply rooted in the humanitarian mission, should work together to ensure a greater impact and a stronger advocacy effort directed at political leaders, the media, educational institutions, and other channels of public communications.

Major international fora, such as the G7, the G20 and others, should be urged consistently by the humanitarian advocates to draw attention to the dire humanitarian and social consequences of wars and conflicts. The destruction of infrastructure adds to the heavy costs incurred by the countries in conflict, but ultimately borne once again disproportionately by civilians. The Sovereign Order of Malta is apolitical and neutral, but it is not insensitive to violence and injustice and certainly does not turn its eyes away from the human tragedies and the responsibilities that cause them.

After the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the Order mobilised its worldwide resources. Over the last two years it has undertaken an extensive humanitarian operation both in Ukraine and in neighbouring and other Countries to assist refugees and internally displaced people. Such interventions took different forms, from medical aid to psychological assistance, and were located in more than 60 centres within Ukraine itself. We estimate the value of the operation as a whole to be 60 million Euros.

Not surprisingly, the Sovereign Order of Malta attaches a special importance to the Holy Land. This is where our Lord Jesus Christ was born, lived, and disseminated His message of Hope and Faith. He was crucified there and rose again. And in this land, the Order of Malta was founded a 1,000 years ago.

Of course, we were horrified by the attacks of the 7th of October against Israeli Citizens and foreigners in the south of Israel. No unjust treatment, no matter how extreme, can ever excuse the violence, brutality, and lack of any human compassion that marked those heinous acts of terror. We express our solidarity with the families of the victims and to the hostages that are still being held by terrorist groups.

At the same time, the scenes of destruction, death and huge human sufferings that we have seen in Gaza over the following weeks violate the principles of humanity. They run against the norms of International Humanitarian Law and the duty to protect the lives of human beings, even under the most challenging situations of conflict.

The Order intends to bring its resources to bear to address the tragic humanitarian consequences of the current situation in Gaza, especially with regard to children and orphans, as soon as the conditions on the ground will allow. In the meantime, our brave and dedicated staff continue their valuable and precious work at the Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem in spite of many hardships.

We are also working diligently to make our interventions on the ground more efficient and more diversified. We need to act swiftly in emergency situations and to avail ourselves of a wider range of financial resources for our humanitarian operations. The ultimate aim remains the provision of aid to those in need with a minimum of procedures and costs and with a maximum of effectiveness and with direct access to those who are suffering.

The Value of Religious Diplomacy

Finally, I should like to briefly discuss a little-known and infrequently-addressed subject: that of “Religious Diplomacy.” If one is to better understand the nature of the Order of Malta, the Order must be appreciated in all its facets: as a Religious Order in the Roman Catholic Church; as a Sovereign Entity under international law recognised by the United Nations and 113 countries around the world; and with a mission to serve the sick and the poor, from local soup kitchens to sophisticated international crisis relief. It, therefore, makes a great deal of sense that the Order would be active and interested in encouraging “Religious Diplomacy” in international circles.

Religions are a powerful source of inspiration and motivation for many individuals and groups around the world. At their best, religions can inspire humanity, despite all its fears, to go to extraordinary lengths to care for society’s most weak and vulnerable. A key part of Religious Diplomacy lies in inter-religious dialogue which is a fundamental component in the quest for Peace and Justice. The commitment and the outstanding efforts almost 100.000 volunteers of the Order of Malta around the world is an example of religion inspiring Peace and Justice. I wish to commend their work, especially those who are faced with risks and threats to their own safety, and I should like to recognise their faith-based motivations.

As I mentioned earlier, one of our priorities in the new Government is to strengthen the capabilities and the outreach of our diplomatic network. By doing so, we believe that we can promote the notion of Religious Diplomacy where secular entities can find common ground with faith-based ones, bringing greater harmony and a common sense of purpose to International diplomacy. For this purpose, we shall hold a conference of the Order’s Ambassadors at the end of this month, here at the Aventino. It will be a three-day event which will gather together all the Ambassadors and Special Envoys of the Order of Malta. They will discuss several topics, including some of the global themes most relevant to their activities, with the participation of outstanding external personalities.


The Order of Malta intends to play its traditional role on the world stage as an advocate for Peace and Solidarity and as a provider of Humanitarian Assistance. The Order believes that there is an increasing need for strong and effective Humanitarian Diplomacy which, in part, can be supported by a greater emphasis on Religious Diplomacy. In its over 900-year history, its commitment to the poor, and its many achievements entitle the Order to act and to be recognised as a key international player in this field. Of course, we need to partner with other like-minded organisations and to make our interventions wider and more sustainable. But in the end, we pursue our mission with the same spirit and the same objectives that inspired Blessed Gerard and his Confrères at the foundation of our Religious Order, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

The Order of Malta counts on its relationships of friendship and co-operation with your Countries and with others with which it will establish relations in the future. In this spirit of hope and dedication to our mission, I wish all of you, your families, all the staff of your embassies, as well as to the people of your Countries, the very best for the New Year and our prayers for a fruitful and prosperous future. May peace and respect for humanity prevail over violence and injustice in this coming year.

Thank you.