Frequently Asked Questions

1) What is the Order of Malta?

Founded in the 11th century in Jerusalem, the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta is a lay religious order of the Catholic Church and a sovereign subject of international law. Faithful to its centuries old mission of service to the vulnerable and the sick, it runs medical, social and humanitarian projects in 120 countries.

The Order of Malta’s mission is summed up in its motto “Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum”: nurturing, witnessing and protecting the faith (tuitio fidei) and serving the poor and the sick (obsequium pauperum).

2) What do we mean by saying that it is a religious order?

The Order was born as a monastic community inspired by St John the Baptist in the Holy Land around 1050. The Hospitallers ran a hospice providing care and shelter for pilgrims of any faith. In 1113 it received formal acknowledgement as a religious order from Pope Paschal II. Before the loss of the island of Malta (1798) all knights were religious, having taken the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Still today, some members of the Order of Malta are religious according to Canon Law, others have pronounced the promise of obedience, pledging to follow Christian principles more profoundly while living in society. Most of the Order of Malta’s 13,500 knights and dames are lay members.

Although they have not pronounced any religious vow, they are all devoted to the exercise of Christian virtue and charity, and committed to developing their spirituality within the Catholic Church and to expending their energies collaborating in the medical and social works of the Order.

3) Is it a military order?

The Order became a military order in the twelve century in response to the need to protect pilgrims and to defend the Christian territories in the Holy Land.  The Order ceased to carry out a military function when it lost the island of Malta in 1798.  Today the Order preserves its military history through its traditions.

4) Is it a chivalrous order?

Traditionally, Knights of the Order belonged to chivalrous and noble families of the Christian world.  The Order is still a chivalrous order today as it has maintained the values of chivalry and nobility.  Although the majority of its members no longer come from ancient noble families, they are admitted because of manifest merits towards the Church and the Order.

5) What are the works of the Order?

The Order of Malta runs humanitarian, medical and social projects in 120 countries. It is especially involved in helping victims of armed conflicts and natural disasters by providing medical assistance, caring for refugees, and distributing medicines and basic equipment for survival.

It has social assistance programs to help the homeless in developed and developing countries, cares for people often pushed to society’s fringes including the disabled and elderly, provides first-aid and organizes medical and social campaigns.

6) How is the Order Governed?

The life and activities of the Order are governed by its Constitutional Charter and its Code.

The head of the Order is the Grand Master, elected for life by the Council Complete of State.  The Grand Master is assisted by the Sovereign Council, in turn elected by the Chapter General (the assembly of the representatives of the Order’s members, that meets once every 5 years).  The new Government Council is the advisory body of the Sovereign Council and provides advice on political, religious, medical and international issues.  A Board of Auditors performs auditing functions.  Both councils are also elected by the Chapter General.

Juridical issues are submitted to the Magistral Courts, appointed by the Grand Master and the Sovereign Council.

The head of the Western Association is its President who serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors. The President is assisted by the Western Association’s Executive Committee (including the Chancellor, Hospitaller, Treasurer, Secretary, Executive Vice President-North and Executive Vice President-South), five Committees of the Board, the Executive Director and eighteen management level Committee volunteer leaders.

In addition, the Western Association is divided into eight Locations (in Los Angeles, Oakland, Orange County, Phoenix, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle) and four Areas (in Denver, Honolulu, Monterey, and Tucson). Each Location has a President, one or two Vice Presidents, a Hospitaller, a Treasurer, and several other officers. Each Area generally has a Convenor, Vice President and Treasurer.

7) What is the international organization of the Order?

Today, the Order is present with its Institutions in 54 countries.  It has 6 Grand Priories, 6 Subpriories and 47 National Associations.  In the United States, the Order has three National Associations, the Western Association, based in San Francisco, California, the American Association, based in New York, New York, and the Federal Association.

8) How many members does the Order have?

The Order of Malta is made up of more than 13,500 Knights, Dames and Chaplains. Next to them stand 80,000 permanent volunteers and 25,000 employees, most of them medical personnel.

9) Where have the main humanitarian missions been carried out in recent years?

Currently the Order of Malta is committed to assisting the Syrian population fleeing the conflict into neighboring countries and runs operations in Iraq supporting internally displaced people. The Italian Relief Corps of the Order participates in rescue operations in the Mediterranean while the Order of Malta’s entities along migration routes to northern Europe provide refugees with emergency aid.

Over the past years, the Order of Malta’s most significant interventions have taken place in Kosovo and Macedonia, India, South East Asia (after the tsunami), Afghanistan, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Haiti, the Philippines and Nepal.

10) How does one become a member of the Order?

Membership in the Order of Malta is by invitation only and each prospective member must be sponsored by an invested member.  The sponsor, a Knight or Dame, mentors the candidate throughout the 2 years of preparation and vocation discernment preceding his or her investiture into the Order. Only persons of undoubted Catholic morality and practice, who have an established personal history of service and giving to the Church are eligible for admission. After approval by the Western Association Membership Committee and the Chancellor, final approval is given by the Sovereign Council in Rome.

11) How does one become a volunteer?

Volunteers are most welcome to work alongside our Knights and Dames.  If you are interested in volunteering contact us through a member you may know in your area or send an e-mail to

12) How are the Order’s diplomatic activities conducted?

The Sovereign Order of Malta is a subject of international law that exercises functions of sovereignty, recognized as such by more than 100 States and by the European Union, with which it exchanges ambassadors.

It has permanent observer missions at the United Nations (New York, Geneva, Paris, Vienna, Rome, Nairobi, Bangkok), and with the principal international organizations. Diplomatic relations allow the Order of Malta to intervene with timely and effective humanitarian aid in the event of natural disaster or armed conflict.

Due to its status as a neutral, apolitical and independent institution, and its humanitarian role, the Sovereign Order of Malta is able to intervene on an international level as a mediator in disputes.

13) How are the Order’s activities financed?

Activities in the Western Association have primarily been funded by its invested members though ongoing public support is both encouraged and growing.  In other parts of the world, sources of funding for the Order’s activities vary.  Resources for the Order’s hospitals and medical activities outside of the U.S. usually receive significant governmental funding through national health and social systems.  The same is true for emergency services provided by the Order in other parts of the world through its international relief agency Malteser International.  In developing countries, activities are often backed by grants from governments, the European Commission or other international organizations.  At the same time, such international activities are also supported by significant donations or benefactors’ contributions to Order’s activities.

14) Where is the Order based?

The Order of Malta settled permanently in Rome, Italy, in 1834. Its two institutional seats, granted extraterritorial rights, are the Magistral Palace on Via dei Condotti – where the Grand Master resides and Government Bodies meet – and the Magistral Villa on the Aventine. The latter hosts the Grand Priory of Rome – which is made up of the Order’s members in Central Italy – and the Embassy of the Sovereign Order to the Italian Republic.