On the 13th of January the traditional meeting between the Order of Malta and the Ambassadors of the 93 countries in which the Order has diplomatic relations, took place in the Magistral Villa in Rome. The audience, in the presence of the Grand Master, Fra’ Andrew Bertie, constituted the occasion to sum up the activities and the principle humanitarian interventions carried out by the Order of Malta during the year 2003.
The text of the Grand Master’s speech.
Dean, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
We meet again, as every year, for our traditional appointment on the Aventine Hill, under the eight pointed cross that has been flying for many centuries.
May I start by extending my heartfelt thanks to the Ambassador of Honduras, His Excellency Alejandro Emilio Valladares Lanza, for his thoughtfulness in expressing his greetings and wishes to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Order. And I also wish to express my greetings and warm wishes to all of you, to your family members, and to the countries that you represent.
Dean, the picture that you have outlined in your speech, which I greatly appreciated, provides the occasion for reflecting on the grave events that have shaken the entire world this past year.
The continuous episodes of terrorism and violence in the Middle East and in other parts of the globe could lead us to think that resentment, vengeance and selfishness are about to overwhelm us. But it is impossible to believe that the ardent desire for peace, always present in the hearts of men of good will, is about to be exhausted.
Thus we believe that now is the moment to reinforce our efforts, so that dialogue and negotiations are not interrupted, so that respect for the life of man and international solidarity will triumph over hate and violence. We are convinced that charity will prevail!
In line with the traditions which have inspired the Order since its foundations – tuitio fidei et obsequium pauperum – the Order has, through its Grand Priories and National Associations, developed over the course of 2003 activities with growing commitment in all the regions of the world in which its services in the humanitarian and health fields are appreciated and received with favour.
I do not wish to present here a detailed list of the interventions that we have undertaken, as they are well known to those who follow our activities. But I can assure you, and I say this with pride, that in the places where our Octagonal Cross shines, our Knights, Dames and all their collaborators have brought forward an exemplary work in the interests of the local populations of the different countries of the world, confirming the extraordinary vitality of our almost one thousand year old Order.
We have successfully carried on our activities in the Americas, in Europe, in the Balkans, in Africa and in Asia. In particular, in the regions of the Middle East, so cruelly afflicted and which are close to our hearts, our German, Lebanese, and French Associations have intervened with exemplary effectiveness. This effectiveness has been recognised internationally and it has been carried out despite the high security risks that our Knights, Dames and their close collaborators, the voluntary workers and medical specialists, have had to confront.
This is also the case in Afghanistan where the Malteser Hilfsdienst started an educational programme for young abandoned girls, and at the same time gave their medical help in cooperating with the United Nations Peace Keeping Forces. Our German Malteser Hilfsdienst was recently assigned to the health services of the Members of the National Assembly, reunited in Kabul, who were working on a New Constitution for the country. In Iraq and in various regions within Iraq, our rescue team, which had been able to enter over the Jordanian border, was able to construct a mobile hospital unit for the afflicted population. They were able to do this thanks to our French and Lebanese Associations and the Jordanian authorities, which greatly helped in making this process easier. We wish to thank the Jordanian authorities. While our team continues working in the south of Iraq, the Malteser Hilfsdienst has also continued its humanitarian work in the north.
Immediately after the news of the tragic earthquake that devastated Iran, our emergency rescue team went straight to Bam to give first aid. Whilst this support phase has now concluded, this week a study mission will be sent to the stricken area to identify and satisfy the immediate needs of the local population, to help the tens of thousands of homeless people who now face the rigours of winter, malnutrition and sickness.
Meanwhile, in Bethlehem, the Holy Family Maternity hospital, which is managed by the Order’s French Association, is continuing its activities, giving assistance to women of every religious faith. All of this is a testimony, both to our total availability regarding this region, and to our hope that a just solution, acceptable to all the parties involved in this conflict, can bring peace and stability to these beloved territories.
In such conflicts, we are able to use to best effect our neutral political position and our absolute respect for all religious faiths, so that we can contribute to the reconciliation of all those to whom geographic proximity, the right to security and peace, the right to moral, cultural, and economic development, and ultimately, the right to an undeniable spiritual community, should be the harbingers of a peaceful coexistence.
On this solemn occasion, I would like to express to the Diplomatic representatives of so many countries of the world, our gratitude to the Knights, the Dames and their collaborators, who have acted with courage and trust, responding with true humanitarian values in the face of those who persist in going down the cruel road of terrorism.
During 2003 there have been the usual international meetings with representatives of a high political level. They include the numerous, continuous and extremely fruitful contacts with the Holy See. Of these, I wish to recall in particular the audience with the Holy Father which took place on the 24th June, as it does every year, on the occasion of St John’s Day. The inspired words pronounced on that occasion by His Holiness gave us encouragement to follow through with our actions. In 2003 we established diplomatic relations with Jordan; and in May we embarked on an Official Visit to Morocco, thus confirming the common traditions of tolerance and respect for universal, humanitarian and religious values that we share with this beautiful country.
In the autumn we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Western Association of the United States in San Francisco; in Germany, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Malteser Hilfsdienst, we had the honour of meeting the President of the Republic, His Excellency Johannes Rau, in Cologne. In Rome, we also had the honour of meeting the President of the Republic of Argentina, His Excellency Eduardo Duhalde, and also the Minister of the Russian Federation, Mr.Alexei Meshkov.
I wish also to address particularly the Italian nation, which is very dear to us, and to send our sincere wishes for continued success to the President, His Excellency Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, who continues to pursue with great passion his efforts to complete the unification of Europe.
Our relations with Italy, developed in a climate of cordial collaboration, were enriched this past summer due to a new chapter in our relationship. An Agreement regarding the health services that we stipulated at the end of the year 2000 has taken effect after its passage through the Italian Parliament and the Sovereign Council. The Agreement will allow us to follow through with the restoration work on the hospital of St. John the Baptist, in the area of La Magliana, in Rome, which began more than a year ago.
In Italy, with which we have such a close relationship, the Order can thus contribute to the development of new hospital structures and organisation, which we have put at the disposal of the Italian people. On another plane, we fully share the preoccupations of the Sovereign Pontiff, who disapproves of the fact that those who are responsible for Constitution of the European Union have refused to insert into the Preamble of the Constitution the reference to the Christian roots of our culture. In this way they have caused grave damage to the moral, spiritual and social virtues of Christian inspiration which have constituted the richness of Europe. The Order, through its Diplomatic representatives, has taken official steps towards the countries of the European Union with which we have diplomatic relations, underlining the importance and the necessity of this reference that independently, apart from every philosophical controversy, is part of the European historical tradition.
Dean, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to conclude by quoting a phrase of the Holy Father’s that is considered emblematic of the involvement of the Catholic world in this very delicate moment: “The world needs peace, great peace. We as believers know how to strengthen this need, through prayer towards Him who is able to grant peace. The path that we can all take is that of the dialogue of Love”.
It is in this spirit, Your Excellencies, that I wish to send to all of you and to your families my best wishes for the New Year.