The feast of St. John the Baptist, our Holy Patron, in the year in which we celebrate nine centuries of the Order’s life, is the most propitious occasion not only for recalling the long journey we have made but also to outline the commitments we feel we should make for the Third Millennium. In the past centuries we have defended the Faith and helped those who needed us – the sick, the poor and the oppressed – without making any distinction of nationality or opinion. In peace and in war, in our turn oppressed, but always with the help of Providence able to rise again. Rising to follow those ideals which have seen us religious, soldiers and hospitallers, but with a single vocation that has always kept us closely united to the Church of Rome.
Today we have the same commitments. But to meet them, as history rolls on, we have to adapt day by day to the ever changing conditions of society around us. Society which, in many cases, determines our action that must be bold, if necessary, in opposing what offends the Catholic faith.
We are also committed to the defence of human life. We build hospitals, we treat the sick, we never hesitate to put ourselves in the front line wherever war breaks out, never taking sides, already ready, with concrete interventions, to meet the needs of the wounded, the refugees and the homeless. We mobilise our forces world-wide, as we did and are still doing in the Balkans, in the manifold situations in which we need to relieve the suffering and hardship of the many refugees still in painful circumstances.
But it is also our duty, besides crying out “war on war”, to shout “war on death” firmly and fearlessly. We make no distinction between the tragedies committed in battle in the name of racial hatred and the many deaths occurring where capital punishment is still in force, even in very civilised countries.
Just as abortion is still committed in observance of the same laws. The Order of Malta, approaching its tenth century of life, must oppose these uncivilised acts, because it is not enough for us to treat the wounded in wars, the sick in hospitals and the refugees in the camps; life has to be defended everywhere and always.
War on death, but also war on those who would like to see the death of Faith. Defending the Faith, “tuitio fidei” , with “obsequium pauperum” – helping the needy – is one of the cornerstones of our centuries-old action. Today the Order is a convinced supporter of the ecumenism that unites not only all Christians, but all religious spirits in the world. This is precisely why we firmly oppose those on the religious sidelines who have created movements and authentic sects, often for profit-making aims, that distort Christ’s truth, damage their adepts and on many occasions violate laws and morality. The Knights of Malta should be ready to take up arms against these so that Faith can live, especially in these times of false prophets and “angels of darkness” who come in the guise of “angels of light”.
Therefore, after nine centuries, we are facing the same commitments that have always guided us. It is our duty to meet them with courage and strength in that Third Millennium awaiting us with “duties unknown to other ages” as announced by Pius XII.