The signature of a Cooperation Agreement for implementing projects in developing countries was a significant moment during the state visit of the Austrian President, Heinz Fischer, to the Grand Master, Fra’ Andrew Bertie, this morning.
After the reception by the Grand Master at the Order’s Magistral Villa in Rome, where the guard of honour was provided by the Military Corps of the Order’s Italian Assocation, the two heads of State enjoyed a long and cordial conversation.
In his speech of welcome, the Grand Master asserted that ‘this visit is of great significance and importance when we recall the centuries-old bonds which link the Grand Priory of Austria and the Grand Priory of Bohemia to your country, and the strong support and friendly cooperation that our Order’s humanitarian activities have always received in Austria. Politically, it is the confirmation of our common commitment to peace and justice, to human rights and dignity.’
‘Today the 900 year old Order of Malta stands as a symbol of humanity and the fight against misery,’ President Fischer said in his reply. ‘The recognition of the international legal personality of the Order as a sovereign subject of international law, going back to the Middle Ages and reconfirmed by the Congress of Vienna assists the Order in the exercise of its humanitarian endeavours’
President Fischer then extended an invitation to the Grand Master to visit Austria in June 2007, for the celebrations of Malteser Hospitaldienst’s 50 years of continuous humanitarian action, and observed that its ‘activity and commitment as an integral part of Austrian civil society is a further and greatly appreciated contribution to the high quality of our social system.’
The Cooperation Agreement, signed by the Order’s Grand Chancellor, Jean-Pierre Mazery, and the Secretary General of the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Johannes Kyrle, has already had its first practical application, with the joint financing of an AIDS and TB programme in the shanty towns of Nairobi, where over 65% of the population of Kenya’s capital city live.
During the ceremony, the Grand Master conferred the Collar of the Order al Merito Melitense on the Austrian President.