1048: JERUSALEM The Blessed Gerard creates a monastic community, the Order of the Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem. The Knights of the Order of Malta care for the pilgrims, the sick and the poor, a tradition that has continued to this day. By a Papal Bull in 1113, Pope Paschal II places the Hospital of Saint John under the aegis of the Church and grants it exemptions. The Order of Malta becomes a religious, chivalric and military order in charge of the protection of the sick and Christian territories.
1310: RHODES In 1291, the Order of Malta is forced into exile when the last stronghold of Christianity in the Holy Land, Saint John of Acre falls. It settles in Cyprus and acquires territorial sovereignty by taking possession of the Island of Rhodes in 1310. In charge of defending the Christian world, the Order of Malta builds a powerful military fleet, which patrols the Eastern seas and fights in several famous battles. The Order of Malta is governed by a Grand Master, proclaimed Sovereign Prince of Rhodes, and by its Sovereign Council. It mints its own currency and establishes diplomatic relations with other States. The Knights of the Order of Malta repeatedly push back the assaults of the Ottomans until 1st of January 1523, when they surrender to Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and his powerful fleet and great army. They leave the island with military honors, as their bravery has been recognized by the Sultan.
1530: MALTA The Order of Malta retains its sovereignty but is without a territory of its own for seven years, until Emperor Charles V grants to the Knights the islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino as well as the city of Tripoli, which become their sovereign stronghold. On 26 October 1530, the Order of Malta takes possession of Malta with the approval of Pope Clement VII. During the Great Siege, from May to September 1565, the Knights withstand the attacks of the Ottomans under the command of Grand Master Fra’ de la Valette – whom the capital of Malta owes its name to. At the time, the naval fleet of the Order of Saint John – better known today as the Order of Malta – is one of the most powerful in the Mediterranean. It contributed to the victory over the Ottomans at the battle of Lepanto in 1571.
1798: EXILE In 1798, Malta is captured by Napoleon Bonaparte on his way to Egypt. The Knights offer no resistance as the Code of the Order of Malta prohibits them from raising weapons against other Christians. The Order of Malta is forced to leave Malta. In 1801, Malta is in English hands. The Order of Malta is unable to regain possession of the island despite the recognition of its sovereign rights by the treaty of Amiens (1802).
1834: ROME After temporarily residing in Messina, Catania and Ferrara, the Order of Malta settles in Rome in 1834 in properties enjoying extraterritorial status: the Magistral Palace, Via Condotti, and the Magistral Villa on the Aventine Hill. It is at this time that its original mission, helping the poor and the sick, becomes once again its main focus. The hospitaller and charitable activities of the Order of Malta – especially important during the two world wars – are further expanded under the rule of Grand Master Angelo de Mojana (1962-1988), and his successor, the 78th Grand Master Fra’ Andrew Bertie.
THE 21ST CENTURY On the strength of its nine centuries of history, the Sovereign Order of Malta can pride itself on being the only successor of the Order of Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem recognized by the Catholic Church in 1113. The Order of Malta enjoys the unique characteristic of being both a religious and chivalric order of the Catholic Church. It is the only religious institution that still has Professed Knights, direct successors of its founders, from among whom the Grand Master and the majority of the Sovereign Council are chosen, and that has never lost its sovereignty.
A subject of public international law, the Order of Malta has never ceased to be recognized as sovereign. The Grand Master governs the Order of Malta both as sovereign and religious head. He chairs the Sovereign Council, which is composed of the four High Offices – Grand Commander, Grand Chancellor, Grand Hospitaller and Receiver of the Common Treasure – as well as six other members, all elected by the Chapter General for a five-year term. They must be chosen from among the Professed Knights and the Knights in Obedience. The Grand Master, who must be a Professed Knight of Perpetual Vows, is elected for life.
The Government Council and the Board of Auditors, which composition reflects the international dimension of the Order of Malta, assist the Grand Master and the Sovereign Council. The Chapter General also elects the members of these two bodies for a five-year term.
The Sovereign Order has a permanent presence in 57 countries, through its six Grand Priories, five Sub-Priories and 47 National Associations as well as its many hospitals, medical centers, clinics, first aid corps, foundations and specialized facilities in 120 countries.
Its 13,500 members and 80,000 permanent volunteers, supported by a qualified staff of over 25,000 health professionals – medical personnel and paramedics – are dedicated to the care of the poor, the sick and the most destitute.
Emergency relief in situations of natural disaster and armed conflict – including medical aid to victims and refugees as well as distributing medicine, water and basic necessities – represents an important part of the humanitarian activities of the Order of Malta.
The Order of Malta
The Order of Malta is the oldest Christian humanitarian organization. It was created in the 11th century in Jerusalem, where the Blessed Gerard and his crusader knight disciples cared for sick pilgrims as well as the city poor and needy. No one was denied assistance as the knights had made the vow to come to the aid of any person in need, whatever their religion or race. This mission of assistance to the sick and those marginalized by society continues to this day through the work of the Order of Malta, which comprises 13,500 members throughout the world.
One of the oldest traditions of the Order of Malta is to care for people affected by leprosy, a disease that is still prevalent today in over 100 countries, despite the progress of modern medicine.
In 1958, the Order of Malta created an International Committee – based in Geneva and replaced in 1999 by the CIOMAL Foundation (Campagne Internationale de l’Ordre de Malte contre la Lèpre) – to run programs to fight leprosy, also called Hansen’s disease. Since 1990, this organization has treated and supported more than 100,000 persons affected by leprosy and their families in Asia. Its activities on the field include the treatment of patients with multi-drug therapy (MDT) and foster better understanding of the reality of leprosy among the local populations.
At present, the most important program, which is based in Cambodia, has largely demonstrated its effectiveness. With increased funding, it could be further expanded. The Order of Malta is appealing to all those who can to make a donation for this oft-neglected but most important cause.