Mission of the Order

 

Upholding human dignity and caring for people in need

The Sovereign Order of Malta is one of the oldest institutions of Western and Christian civilization. A lay religious order of the Catholic Church since 1113 and a subject of international law, the Sovereign Order of Malta has diplomatic relations with over 100 states and the European Union, and permanent observer status at the United Nations. It is neutral, impartial and apolitical.

Founded in Jerusalem in the 11th century, the Order of Malta has a long history of service to the vulnerable and the sick. This 900-year history is reflected in its full name: Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta. Since 1834 the Order of Malta’s government seat has been in Rome, where it is guaranteed extraterritorial rights.

The Order of Malta remains true to its inspiring principles, summarized in the motto “Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum”, nurturing, witnessing and defending the faith and serving the poor and the sick representing the Lord, which become reality through the voluntary work carried out by Dames and Knights in humanitarian assistance and medical and social activities.

Today, the Order of Malta is active in 120 countries caring for people in need through its medical, social and humanitarian works. Day-to-day, its broad spectrum of social projects provides a constant support for forgotten or excluded members of society. It is especially involved in helping people living in the midst of armed conflicts and natural disasters by providing medical assistance, caring for refugees, and distributing medicines and basic equipment for survival. Across the world, the Order of Malta is dedicated to the preservation of human dignity and the care of all those in need, regardless of their race or religion.

The Order of Malta operates through 12 Priories, 47 national Associations, 133 diplomatic missions, 1 worldwide relief agency and 33 national volunteer corps, as well as numerous hospitals, medical centers and specialist foundations. It does not pursue any economic or political goal and does not depend on any other state or government.

 

Characteristics of the Order

The Sovereign Order of Malta is a sovereign subject of international law, with its own constitution, passports, stamps, and public institutions. The Order has diplomatic relations with 106 countries – many of which are non-Catholic – and missions to major European countries, as well as to European and international organizations.  The Order of Malta is neutral, impartial and non-political, which is why it can successfully act as a mediator between States.

 

The Order and the Republic of Malta

The Order has recently returned to Malta, after signing an agreement with the Maltese Government that granted the Order the exclusive use of Fort St. Angelo for a term of 99 years.  Located in the town of Birgu, the Fort belonged to the Knights from 1530 until the island was occupied by Napoleon in 1798.  Today, after restoration, the Fort hosts historical and cultural activities related to the Order of Malta.

The Grand Master

The Grand Master is elected for life from the Professed Knights by the Council Complete of State.  According to the Constitution, as the religious Superior and Sovereign, he must fully dedicate himself to the development of the works of the Order and to set an example of living by Christian principles, to all the members of the Order.  He is vested with supreme authority.  Together with the Sovereign Council, the Grand Master issues the legislative measures not covered by the Constitutional Charter, promulgates government acts, manages Common Treasure assets, ratifies international agreements and the summoning of the Chapter General.  The States with which the Order has diplomatic relations recognize the Grand Master with the prerogatives, immunities and honours reserved for Heads of State.  The title of Most Eminent Highness is bestowed on the Grand Master, and the Holy Roman Church confers him the rank of Cardinal.  The Grand Master resides at the Order’s seat of government on Via Condotti in Rome.

Government

The Sovereign Order of Malta is a sovereign subject of international law.  The Order – which is based in Rome, on Via Condotti – has its own Government, an independent magistracy, bilateral diplomatic relations with 104 countries and is granted the status of Permanent Observer in many international organizations, such as the United Nations.  Its operational activities are managed by the six Grand Priories, six Subpriories and 47 National Associations of Knights and Dames on five continents.  The Order issues its own passports and stamps and creates public institutions, endowed with independent juridical personality.  The Order’s life is governed by the Constitutional Charter and the Code, reformed in 1997.  The Grand Master governs the Order both as sovereign and religious head.  He is elected for life from among the professed knights in perpetual vows.  He is assisted by and presides over the Sovereign Council, which is composed of four high offices – the Grand Commander, Grand Chancellor, Grand Hospitaller, and Receiver of the Common Treasure – as well as six other members, all elected by the Order’s Chapter General for a five-year term.  The Council of Government and the Board of Auditors, whose compositions reflect the international character of the Order, assist the Grand Master and the Sovereign Council.  The Chapter General also elects these two bodies for a five-year term.

The legal system of the Order is expressed by the usual division into three powers:

Legislative power
Rests with the Grand Master and Sovereign Council for non-constitutional matters; with the Chapter General, representing the Supreme Assembly of Knights, as far as constitutional rules are concerned.

Executive power
Rests with the Sovereign Council, chaired by the Grand Master and composed of ten Knights elected by the Chapter General.

Judicial power
It is exercised by the Magistral Courts of First Instance and of Appeal, composed of judges appointed by the Grand Master and the Sovereign Council from Order members with legal expertise.

The Order in the United States

In 1927, Pope Pius XI requested the Grand Master and the Sovereign Council to create an Association in the United States. This was done with the chartering of an Eastern Association that was headquartered in New York. Thirteen men from the East Coast were the founding members, and His Eminence, Patrick Cardinal Hayes, Archbishop of New York, the first Chaplain.  Dames were admitted in this Association for the first time in 1986.  Now known as the American Association, its membership is heavily concentrated in the Northeast.  By the end of 2009, the American Association’s membership totaled over sixteen hundred.

An initial contact between a delegate from the Grand Magistry and the Most Reverend John J. Mitty, Archbishop of San Francisco, in November 1951, preceded the establishment of the Western Association.  Eight men were chosen as initial members, and were invested as Knights of Magistral Grace by Archbishop Mitty in Saint Mary’s Cathedral on June 24, 1953.  The new Western Association, headquartered in San Francisco, was given jurisdiction of the western states of Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington, as well as the then-territories of Alaska and Hawaii.  The fledgling group was guided during its early years by Prince Nickolas Tchkaotova, a Knight of Honor and Devotion, as it elected its first officers, received the Very Reverend Benedict Blank, OP, as its first Chaplin ad honorem, and began its many works of charity.  Dames were first admitted to the Western Association in 1975.  By the end of 2009, its membership had grown to over seven hundred.

In late 1973, the Southern Association was incorporated as the Order’s third Association in the United States. In November 1974, the Sovereign Council formally approved its establishment in Washington, DC, with nine original members and eleven transferees from the American Association.  In 1985, the official title was changed to the Federal Association, and Dames were admitted.  By the end of 2010, its membership had grown to over nine hundred.

The Sovereign Order of Malta is a sovereign subject of international law.  The Order – which is based in Rome, on Via Condotti – has its own Government, an independent magistracy, bilateral diplomatic relations with 104 countries and is granted the status of Permanent Observer in many international organizations, such as the United Nations.  Its operational activities are managed by the six Grand Priories, six Subpriories and 47 National Associations of Knights and Dames on five continents.  The Order issues its own passports and stamps and creates public institutions, endowed with independent juridical personality.  The Order’s life is governed by the Constitutional Charter and the Code, reformed in 1997.  The Grand Master governs the Order both as sovereign and religious head.  He is elected for life from among the professed knights in perpetual vows.  He is assisted by and presides over the Sovereign Council, which is composed of four high offices – the Grand Commander, Grand Chancellor, Grand Hospitaller, and Receiver of the Common Treasure – as well as six other members, all elected by the Order’s Chapter General for a five-year term.  The Council of Government and the Board of Auditors, whose compositions reflect the international character of the Order, assist the Grand Master and the Sovereign Council.  The Chapter General also elects these two bodies for a five-year term.

Spirituality

The Order of Malta has been a religious Order since 1113, the year it was recognised by Pope Paschal II. As a religious Order, it is linked to the Holy See, but at the same time it is independent as a sovereign subject of international law.
In this respect the religious character of the Order coexists with its full sovereignty. The Grand Master is at the same time head of a sovereign State and head of a religious Order. In this second capacity the Holy Roman Church gives him the rank of Cardinal.
The Order of Malta is a lay religious Order according to Canon Law, where some of its members are religious – they have professed the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience – and others have taken a special vow of obedience, while the great majority of the knights and dames are lay members. The Grand Master of the Order is elected from among the Professed Knights of Perpetual Vows.
The eight-pointed Cross which symbolises the Order represents the eight Beatitudes and is thus a visual memento of its spirituality.

According to the Constitutional Charter, members of the Order are required to maintain exemplary Christian behaviour in their private and public life, contributing to the maintenance of the Order’s traditions.

According to Constitutional Charter rules, the Pope appoints a Cardinal as his representative to the Order, the Cardinalis Patronus, whose duty it is to promote the spiritual interests of the Order and of its members and to maintain relations with the Holy See.
The Pope also appoints the Prelate of the Order from the three candidates proposed by the Grand Master. The Prelate is the ecclesiastic superior of the Order’s clergy.

The Order remains true to its inspiring principles: defence of the Faith and service to the suffering. Its members share the same vocation and strive together for solidarity, justice and peace, based on the teaching of the Gospels and in the closest communion with the Holy See. They are involved in active and dynamic charity supported by prayer. No Knight or Dame is such by privilege of birth or merits acquired, but for having answered to the call to be where there is a material or moral need, where there is suffering.

Wherever they settled, the Knights Hospitallers always established first a Hospital and Hospice and then, if they needed to, built defence fortifications. What does being a Hospitaller mean in the Third Millennium? It means dedicating oneself to easing suffering and to bringing the balm of Christian charity to the sick, anywhere in the world, not only in hospitals but also in private homes and nursing homes in the shantytowns of destitute populations. The Order does not only dedicate itself to the sick, but also to the socially isolated, the victims of persecution and the refugees of any race and religious faith.