The Grand Master, Fra’ Giacomo Dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto, received today the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Sovereign Order of Malta for the traditional audience of the beginning of the new year. The audience took place at the Magistral Villa in Rome.
After the speech of the Doyenne of the Diplomatic Corps, the ambassador of Ukraine Tetiana Izhevska, the Grand Master gave the following address
Madame Doyenne, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am particularly happy to welcome you here today for our customary exchange of new year’s greetings. May I greet in particular the Ambassadors who are participating for the first time in the traditional audience with the diplomatic corps accredited to the Sovereign Order of Malta.
I sincerely thank the Ukraine Ambassador, Doyenne of the Diplomatic Corps, for the much appreciated speech she has given on your behalf.
Over the past years the Order’s special role in the humanitarian and international scenario has become increasingly visible. Its sovereignty, its thousand years of experience in assisting the weakest and, last but not least, its Christian identity, have made the Order of Malta a reliable and solid partner, capable of managing delicate interventions in crisis areas.
The world is witnessing an unprecedented prolongation of conflicts and wars, with a current total of thirty-six, worldwide. The United Nations has sixteen peace missions underway, some having been underway for seventy years, such as that in the Middle East, which began in 1948 and the conflict between India and Pakistan, which started in 1949. I wish here to quote Pope Francis, who so aptly describes this situation as “a third world war fought piecemeal”. With this complex scenario, any humanitarian action faces great difficulties and we must find new approaches and methods to respond more effectively to the needs of communities affected by conflicts and natural disasters. There are many populations suffering violence and tensions and our solidarity and support go out to them. I recall the words of the Holy Father for Ukraine praying for “peace in this land”.
2018 has been a difficult year for many populations, and the forecasts for 2019 are extremely alarming. Conflicts are bringing humanitarian needs to critical levels. There are wars which have been going on for years, such as in Syria, started almost eight years ago, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in South Sudan. And then there is Yemen, where one of the worst crises of our time is taking place. It is difficult to forget the photograph in the New York Times of little Amal, the six-year-old Yemeni girl who starved to death. Some twenty million people in just four countries are now facing famine and starvation.
To help manage the massive migration flows caused by this dramatic situation, the Order of Malta has, from its emergence, supported and contributed to the United Nations’ difficult and demanding mission to create new global compacts for migrants and refugees. These are the first non-binding intergovernmental agreements conceived under the auspices of the UN and adopted by many member states at the recent Marrakesh summit in December. The Order of Malta was a participant at the summit, with a delegation led by the Grand Chancellor and the Grand Hospitaller, who in the various sessions illustrated the Order’s contribution to the management of migration flows. They testified to the constant commitment to creating the Global Compact for migrants and refugees. We are convinced that, if we want to manage and render sustainable this global and irreversible migration, the global compact is the most effective instrument we have. No country, whether in Europe or in the rest of the world, can act by itself to manage this phenomenon effectively. So it is disappointing that some states decided to withdraw their support.
We cannot speak of migration without including the Mediterranean, a thoroughfare that has always symbolised the coexistence of different populations, of cultural and trade exchanges – an ultimate meeting place. And yet this is where one of the worst tragedies of our time is being enacted. In 2018 more than 2,000 people fleeing from poverty, wars and famine have perished in this blue sea that embraces three continents and over twenty nations. In September 2018 alone, twenty percent of those who departed from Libya in boats died, or are missing. In other words, two people out of ten didn’t make it (according to new data from the Institute for International Political Studies). This is only too well known by the doctors and nurses of our Italian Relief Corps, who have been providing first-aid in maritime search and rescue operations on Italian vessels since 2008. We are also promoting humanitarian laws through dialogue with representatives of the fragile state of Libya and international agencies.
The odious human trafficking trade is prompted by poverty and desperation. It is thus the migrants – often minors, often young women – who are the first victims of a phenomenon involving some 25 million people. Through our two Ambassadors for monitoring and combating human trafficking – in Geneva and in Lagos, Nigeria – the Order of Malta is highlighting this fact among the international community. We are also raising awareness of public opinion to promote policies for reducing the phenomenon, such as the introduction of strict laws in consumer-goods production chains. An assistance centre for female trafficking victims has recently been opened in Lagos. The awareness-raising campaigns also cover organ trafficking, a ruthless trade generating a billion-dollar turnover.
The Order of Malta’s recent efforts involve its new commitment in the Middle East, where years of control by Daesh militants and violent conflicts have rendered millions homeless, and paralysed local infrastructure. To facilitate the return and reintegration of displaced communities in the Nineveh Plains in northern Iraq, our international relief agency, Malteser International, is rebuilding houses and schools and our professionals are promoting livelihood opportunities for those returning to their lands. These also include Christians and other religious minorities such as the Yazidi who have suffered terrible persecutions. Thanks to the German government’s support, Malteser International is developing models for promoting social cohesion and peaceful integration among the various races and religious groups in the region. It is an integrated peace-building approach that promotes the dignity of each and every person. Religious leaders are also involved in this operation through seminars and interfaith dialogue.
In Lebanon, the twenty-five percent increase in the population caused by the influx of refugees from Syria has had a strong impact on the country’s already fragile infrastructure and on the living conditions of local communities. The Order of Malta’s national Association runs ten medical centres and four mobile clinics as well as many assistance programmes for young disabled people. Together with Malteser International, it is helping to improve healthcare in the country’s most vulnerable regions. This programme aims to meet the needs of both the refugees and their host communities, enabling the two groups to build stronger social and cultural links and to promote social cohesion. In Turkey, a hospital on the Syrian border continues to guarantee immediate access to healthcare for displaced persons fleeing from the war.
In Central and South America the tragedy of those who are fleeing from poverty is never ending. We can all remember the anguishing images of the migrant caravan with its many unaccompanied minors. In Colombia – where numerous Venezuelans are seeking refuge – our international agency Malteser International is setting up heath and food programmes to help the displaced population.
It is a commitment that this year enabled Malteser International’s emergency medical team to receive the World Health Organization certificate. Thus, Malteser International is now listed in its global register and the UN Economic and Social Council has also granted it the status of Special Consultant. These are recognitions of the professionalism of the Order of Malta’s operative arm, a fully-fledged key global player in the humanitarian aid sector.
Some of the most significant interventions of our international relief agency are in south-east Asia. During the terrible tsunami and subsequent earthquake which struck Indonesia in October, our emergency teams immediately stepped in to assist the communities affected and to provide first-aid. Let me also remind you of the projects to support the Rohingya community. In Bangladesh, relief teams manage three medical centres in the refugee camps for this persecuted minority, providing healthcare, food for starving children and psycho-social support. These are programmes strongly rooted in a territory that the Order knows well and where it has been present for many years.
The Order of Malta has a long experience in interventions in difficult areas affected by ethnic or religious hostilities. Hence our commitment to promoting awareness and respect for international humanitarian laws, which in unequal wars and with the presence of new non-institutional players becomes more urgent. It is by now well-known that religious institutions, albeit of different faiths, share the fundamental principles that make people equal before their God. In the wake of the results of the 2016 International Humanitarian Summit, we are working on a draft Code of Conduct which will be a working manual to share with the religious leaders and communities involved in conflicts. The document highlights the fundamental values of dignity and respect of life that are shared equally by Christianity and the other main religions.
Some of you, distinguished Ambassadors, have been able to learn more about the Order of Malta’s range of activities during the meetings between our Grand Chancellor Albrecht Boeselager and Ambassadors of European countries accredited to the Holy See. These meetings have been very beneficial in discussions on the most urgent issues that international diplomacy has to face. In the same spirit of cooperation, we also participated in the Festival of Mediterranean Journalism, an opportunity to debate cooperation and civil commitment in the region, as a key actor on the international stage.
Over the past year, there has been no lack of opportunities for promoting cooperation with the great institutions engaged on the humanitarian front. I personally had the pleasure of meeting the national president of the Italian Red Cross and the president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. In recent months, the Grand Chancellor has had profitable talks with the director general of the International Organisation for Migration and the director of the World Food Programme, both United Nations organisations. These meetings have further strengthened the shared objective of promoting a grassroots approach for communities in difficulty and for humane and sustainable development models.
Among our most significant projects, I wish to cite the Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem, since 1990 managed by the Order of Malta where Christians and Muslims work together. With almost 4,500 births a year, the hospital provides treatment for premature infants, thanks to its intensive care unit, which also accepts babies from other hospitals in the region. The hospital’s mobile clinics enable women living in remote villages on the West Bank – often without electricity or running water – to have regular neonatal check-ups. In December, I received the president of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, at the Grand Magistry, testifying to the Order’s commitments in the Palestinian territory. It was an important meeting, during which the President reiterated his appreciation for our work. With the aim of encouraging dialogue between the parties, the Order of Malta also recently organised a meeting between Muslim and Jewish religious representatives. In a neutral and private context, the parties considered in depth the possibility of a constructive dialogue on shared values.
During 2018, the number of the Order of Malta’s diplomatic relations rose to 108 with the establishment of relations with the Republic of Nauru in the Pacific Ocean. We received the visits of the presidents of Cape Verde and of Benin, the president of Montenegro, the prime minister of Romania and various ministers from other countries. Together with a delegation from the Order I went to Cameroon on a State Visit. It was a chance to see for myself the Order of Malta’s hospital in Njombè, which offers treatment and assistance to the poor of the region.
On the African continent, theatre of some of the worst humanitarian tragedies, the Order of Malta directly manages or contributes to the running of hundreds of hospitals and dispensaries. In a recent journey to Uganda, the Grand Hospitaller attended the inauguration ceremony for a school, mostly for refugees from nearby South Sudan. This is a particularly significant project, as the school has been built in sustainable materials with zero environmental impact. For many years, Malteser International has been working in the region to improve clean water supplies for both refugees and local communities and is developing health programmes to reduce the spread of disease. Health teams are also active in the Democratic Republic of the Congo after the recent new outbreak of the ebola virus.
The fight against epidemics remains one of our priorities: every year Ordre de Malte France launches its fund-raising campaign for research into Hansen’s Disease and there are numerous rehabilitation programmes – also through our CIOMAL Foundation – in many of the countries where leprosy continues to kill, such as Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
A few weeks ago, we celebrated the second World Day of the Poor, promoted by Pope Francis and which the Order of Malta supported with numerous local initiatives. Assisting the poor remains a central activity for the Order’s Associations, members and volunteers, who every day devote themselves to alleviating suffering with tenderness and respect, offering moments of closeness, as well as basic commodities. In 2018, through its extensive worldwide network, the Order served a total of five and a half million meals in its soup kitchens and meals-on-wheels programmes. This commitment is also seen in the Russian Federation, where a social centre run by the Order of Malta assists some 76,000 needy people and provides daily hot meals and basic commodities.
Among the people we serve every day there are naturally also the elderly. In Europe especially, the demographic collapse often means that they are isolated and deprived of affection. In the UK there are some 72 residential homes for the older generation. In September, a new retirement home was opened with accommodation for up to 48 people. I myself was delighted to inaugurate the new facility, to testify to the Order of Malta’s ceaseless commitment to helping the elderly.
Care and attention services for the disabled remains one of the Order’s key activities. It is a commitment that is demonstrated every year in the summer camps we run for the young disabled where young people with mental and motor problems meet up for a week, cared for by a matching number of young volunteers. The summer camps are held in many countries, including France, Italy, Lebanon, Belgium and Ukraine, and last year I visited the international camp in the UK in August. Seeing those young people interact, open up, laugh and enjoy themselves with trust and appreciation in their eyes is for me an unforgettable and heart-warming memory, since so often in daily life they are deprived of that social network so crucial at their age.
I am certain the Order of Malta volunteers from Italy, France and Germany who are preparing to go to Panama for World Youth Day at the end of January – there are 120 of them – feel the same. They will provide accident and emergency care for participants during their five days in the central American country, where Pope Francis will also be present. We are convinced that the only way to offer a more hopeful future for humanity is to focus on these young people who overcome so many barriers by readily and fearlessly embracing their neighbour. To quote Sophocles: “To be doing good deeds is man’s most glorious task”.
After the success of the first Asian Pacific summer camp for young disabled in Singapore last year, the second was held in Manila, in the Philippines in November. The eighth Asia-Pacific Conference also took place in this country, coinciding this year with the creation of the Order of Malta’s Hong Kong Association. This is the third Association, after Singapore and Philippines, to be established in Asia – an event that confirms the Order’s growing presence on the continent.
Meantime, the reform of the Constitutional Charter of the Order has continued apace. Launched in 2017 it has led to the definition of some key themes for the Order’s life, and in particular, its religious members. The strategic seminar held at the beginning of 2018 attracted a large international participation and the main aspects of the reform were agreed on, including the importance of a spiritual life which for a Catholic Order must remain a guiding inspiration.
As many of you already know, there will also be many institutional commitments in 2019. The first is on 2nd May, when the Chapter General of the Sovereign Order will take place. It is convened every five years to review the overall state of the Order and to elect members of the Sovereign Council, the Order’s government.
Dear Ambassadors, in the year following the 70th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights, the Sovereign Order of Malta is more than ever committed to bringing assistance and relief to those who suffer and to seeking intervention models that respect individual dignity, and which are capable of promoting peace and social cohesion. We need to hone our dialogue tools as never before. The ongoing wars and conflicts, the spread of populism and xenophobia, the attempts to disseminate fake news to spread concerns and fears, remind us that the role of diplomacy is fundamental for guaranteeing an environment of dialogue and credibility in bilateral and multilateral relations. I am very grateful to you for the contribution you make in your respective roles to promoting the shared commitment for peace and coexistence of peoples.
I wish you and your families a serene 2019, with peace and social cohesion its fundamental values.