“Hand in hand”: the leitmotiv that the Grand Hospitaller, Dominique de la Rochefoucauld-Montbel recalled at the opening of the Order of Malta’s XXVII International Hospitallers Conference, held from 21 to 24 March. Like previous years, there was a high participation with some 80 Hospitallers (who are responsible for all medical, social and humanitarian activities) – from all corners of the world – arriving at the evocative setting of the St. John Baptist Hospital in Rome run by the Order of Malta’s Italian Knights Association.
“Being ‘hand in hand’ has many meanings,” the Grand Hospitaller explained, “from the way in which we work to the way in which we encounter the poor, to the way in which we care for others. It means not looking down at our needy brothers and sisters but looking at them eye to eye, hand in hand.” The Order’s mission, implemented by 80,000 permanent volunteers and 42,000 professionals running hundreds of hospitals, healthcare centres and homes for the elderly, with 5.5 million meals distributed in 2017, is a “marvellous mission” because performed under the banner of the faith and shared values of all its members and volunteers It is a mission with a comprehensive vision “because forgotten people are everywhere” and they can be reached “by small and large associations, with small and large projects,” all worthy of consideration and attention.
Monsignor Jean Laffitte, Prelate of the Order, also spoke of “empathy, sympathy and compassion” when he took the floor after the personal testimony given by Rafael Enrique Abreu Anselmi, representing the Venezuelan Association, to whom the Grand Hospitaller gave precedence.
The situation in Venezuela is close to collapse. “There are no medicines, no emergency aid; there is no food, no work and the doctors and nurses are leaving, everyone is leaving. Over the last five years three million people have left the country. The infant mortality rate has increased by 50%. Diseases such as diphtheria and tuberculosis have returned, for others such as HIV or other infections there are no medicines, and malaria is spreading. We’re dying, but we still have hope, because we have courage and faith and we now know we have your support.”
Emergencies and necessities, but also new projects and solutions were all discussed as the Hospitallers took the floor: from the impact of climate change, highlighted by Ingo Radtke of Malteser International; to the networks created by the Order’s young members and volunteers described by Aleksandra Weglarzy; to the fundamental importance of communication to publicize the Order’s work, up to crowdfunding. No to mention the respite holidays (Share to Care) for families with disabled children in Ireland, the new projects for the integration of migrants with language courses, those for the lonely elderly or for granting “the last wishes” of the terminally ill. Last but not least, the creation in Italy of a veterinary service for the dogs of the homeless, often the only source of affection for those living on the streets.
With two simple pictures, Ambassador Franz Salm demonstrated to those present the Order’s excellent work against marginalization and for the integration of the Roma people: “Look at these eyes! They say it all,” he commented in front of the enthusiasm shown by a Roma child at school. Like the photograph of a young Roma boy riding a horse during a drill, who seems to be saying: “Look, I can fly, I can reach the sky!”. In the other hemisphere, in South Africa, there are other children given similar opportunities with Fra’ Gérard Lagleder’s mission. The president of the Brotherhood of Blessed Gerard tells us that “education is the best investment in development”: 165 scholarships were assigned last year to young orphans in Mandeni, in the Zulu/Nadl province in South Africa.
Before closing the meeting, Grand Chancellor Albrecht Boeselager wanted to remind those present of the Order of Malta’s efforts to combat human trafficking. “a situation that is becoming increasingly serious. “There have never been so many slaves,” Boeselager said, “that is people living in conditions of modern-day slavery,” which means prostitution, organ trafficking and child labour. The Grand Chancellor recalled that the Order has established two ambassadors in Lagos and Geneva, urging those present to “keep their eyes open, to observe and do everything possible” to fight this scourge.
The participants expressed their gratitude to the president of the Italian Association, Riccardo Paternò di Montecupo, who took the opportunity to illustrate the important renovations underway in the St. John Baptist Hospital. At the end of the conference, the Hospitallers met some members of the Military Corps of the Order of Malta’s Italian Association in the Italian Army compound in Cecchignola. The Military Corps Museum is also housed there, a small treasure trove of objects and photographs regarding the Corps’s relief work since 1909.
Next year the International Conference of Hospitallers will be held in Vienna, from 26 to 29 March, and after that in 2021 in the United Kingdom, in 2022 in Poland and in 2023 in Ireland.