Vatican: Malta's Knights celebrate 900 years of faith on the frontline

2013-02-09 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) On Saturday visitors to the Vatican will have the rare treat of seeing the Churches’ oldest Sovereign Military Order of Knights in full regalia, march in a solemn procession to the tomb of St Peter.

Four thousand deep, the 900 year old Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, will fill the Vatican basilica to celebrate the jubilee anniversary of the papal bull that set them apart from other monastic military orders of the time.

It was February 15, 1113, when Pope Paschal II issued "Piae postulatio voluntatis". This bull placed the Order under the protection of the Holy See, formalizing its spiritual and institutional identity.

“This is a very special anniversary and over 4000 of the Order’s members and volunteers are expected to arrive from all corners of the world” explained Albrecht Boeselager, the Order’s Grand Hospitaller or ‘Minister of Health and International Cooperation’. On 9 February they will meet Pope Benedict XVI at the end of the mass celebrated by the Cardinal Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, in St. Peter’s Basilica. Listen to Emer McCarthy’s full interview with Albrecht Boeselager:

The activities of the Knights of Malta offers medical, social and humanitarian support in 120 countries worldwide, thanks to 13,500 members, 80,000 volunteers and over 25,000 doctors, nurses and paramedics.


The order is a sovereign and independent reality. It does not depend on any state or on the Holy See, it has its own diplomatic corps accredited to the various governments. “Wherever we operate, we are builders of peace" in a kind of "singular humanitarian diplomacy” says Jean-Pierre Mazery, Head of the Executive and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Sovereign Order of Malta. "We do not depend on anyone, we do not defend territories, we do not take part in conflicts, we act only to help people, regardless of nationality, race or religion".

The religious chivalric order was originally founded in the 12th century to assist poor pilgrims in need of care in the Holy Land and still today the Order is involved in many initiatives in the Middle East. The Knights of Malta run the Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem, located in the territories subjected to the Palestinian Authority and it is the only safeguard for the maternity department of the region equipped with a neonatal intensive care unit. Since 1990, at the hospital in Bethlehem, more than 57,000 children were born. While the mobile clinic of the Hospital provides the essential maternal and pediatric care to women and infants in the remotest corners of the surrounding villages in the desert of Judea.


Syria is also a priorty concern for the Order. Grand Hospitaller Albrecht Boeselager says the Order has in fact intensified its actions to help those affected by the conflict, and in particular over a million and a half refugees. The "Malteser International" (the Order's relief agency for humanitarian aid) operates in the areas of Damascus, Aleppo, Hama and Homs, distributing thousands of survival and hygiene kits. The intervention strategy in favor of Syrian refugees also involves neighboring countries. In particular, the social and medical center in Khaldieh, Lebanon, is exclusively dedicated to providing free medical care to the Syrian refugees. In the winter months, the relief efforts related to the Knights of Malta provide emergency aid to 10,000 more people in Syria, Turkey and Lebanon, particularly women with children.