“We celebrate the high level of relations between our two States and the Order of Malta’s support in promoting humanitarian activities and improving our ability to tackle emergencies.” With these words the President of the Republic of Panama Juan Carlos Varela welcomed Fra’ Matthew Festing to the Palacio de las Garzas on 24 February last. President Varela then expressed his government’s intention to continue strengthening the bilateral relations and cooperation between the Sovereign Order of Malta and Panama, developed over the last 68 years through humanitarian aid, donations and significant cooperation agreements. After acknowledging the Order of Malta’s capabilities and expertise, President Varela hoped that it would be possible to exchange of experiences in the management of outpatient hospitals, social services and post-disaster humanitarian interventions. “We are building in Panama,” the President said, “the Humanitarian Assistance Hub for Latin America which will offer rapid response to all the countries in the region in the event of natural disasters and emergencies”.
President Varela took the opportunity to recall the Order of Malta’s healthcare programme in the Don Bosco-Caballeros de Malta Clinic, offering free medical treatment to people in need in the Panama district, together with other cooperation programmes the Order is running in Panama.
“I am certain that the values we share,” the Grand Master said in his address, “will help us to identify common areas of interest, such as the importance of defending peace and security, eliminating poverty and inequalities as well as achieving sustainable economic development. These go hand in hand with the promotion, respect and defence of human dignity, particularly important in view of the numerous humanitarian crises we are now facing worldwide”.
As a recognition and expression of appreciation for the humanitarian work performed by Fra’ Matthew Festing worldwide, in the American continent and in Panama, President Varela conferred on the Grand Master the Collar of the Order of Manuel Amador Guerrero, the highest distinction awarded by the Panamanian State. The Grand Master then decorated President Varela with the Collar of the Order pro Merito Melitense.
At the National Assembly
The Grand Master was received by Rubén De León Sánchez, President of the National Assembly, with whom he had talks. The Grand Master then addressed the Panamanian deputies meeting in special session.
At the Santa Maria la Antigua Catholic University
On 25 February Fra’ Matthew Festing met the board of directors, teaching staff and students in the auditorium of the Santa Maria Catholic University (USMA). During a ceremony the Grand Master was presented with an honorary doctorate in Religious and Human Science and delivered a Lectio Magistralis.
Within the framework of his State Visit, the Grand Master visited the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal and the City of Knowledge.