Rome Celebrates Ancient Order

Friday 8 February 2013

AUSTRALIAN Order of Malta delegates are among 4,000 international delegates currently in Rome to celebrate the 900 year anniversary of the issue of the papal bull Pie postulatio voluntatis by Pope Paschal II on 15 February 1113.

The papal decree, addressed to founder Blessed Gerard, gave ecclesiastical approval for the Hospital of St John, which is today the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta.

To mark the occasion, robed Members of the Order from across the globe, including a group of 15 representatives from the Australian Association are currently gathered in Rome for an International Working Conference. The conference started on 6 February and the celebrations will culminate in a Pontifical High Mass at St Peter’s Basilica on Saturday 9 February.

The Australian delegates include Australian Ambassadors of the Order of Malta James Dominguez, David Scarf, Michael Mann and Michael’s wife Monique and daughter Alexandra; the Australian President Tony Macken AM, son Antony and daughter Venetia, both members of the Order; Victorian Order Members Colonel Anthony Heath and Damian Benson; from London Josh Puls; from Queensland Dr Ian Marshall AM and Judith Marshall (Dr Marshall is the National Hospitaller of the Order of Malta in Australia); and from Sydney Frank Testa and his mother Mary Testa.

While the papal decree was issued 900 years ago, the Hospital of St John began operating in Jerusalem in about 1048, 65 years earlier. It was founded by Blessed Gerard to provide care for poor, sick or injured pilgrims to the Holy Land.

In about 1100 Blessed Gerard had called on his brother Hospitallers to follow him in wearing a religious habit and to take vows of poverty chastity and obedience.

By 1113 application had been made to the Holy See to have the new Brotherhood recognised as a religious Order.

In response the reigning Pope Paschal II issued Pie postulatio voluntatis, which permanently transformed what had been a community of pious hospitallers into a religious order of the Catholic Church, a status which it holds to this day.

The new institute, later referred to as the Order of Malta, flourished both as a lay religious order of the Catholic Church, as an order of chivalry and as a sovereign subject of international law.

Under the threat to pilgrims from the incursions of armed Islamist forces the Order of Malta took up arms, fighting in the Holy Land, on Rhodes and ultimately on Malta and as a naval force in the Mediterranean.

In 1565 the Order of Malta defeated a much larger Saracen invading force in the Great Siege of Malta, a victory which removed the immediate risk of an invasion of Sicily and perhaps of Rome, and which was sealed by the naval victory at Lepanto in 1571.

The Order continued on Malta until expelled by Napoleon in 1798.

After temporary seats in Europe, the Order took up its permanent abode in Rome where it resides to this day in the Palazzo Malta in the Via Condotti.

The Order has the unique characteristic of being both a religious and a chivalric Order of the Catholic Order, the sole Order with an uninterrupted sovereignty to have professed knights. The Grand Master is chosen from their ranks, as are most of the members of the Sovereign Council.

As a subject of international public law, the Order has always been recognised as sovereign. The Grand Master governs the Order both as sovereign and religious head. He is assisted by and presides over the Sovereign Council, which is composed of four high offices - those of the Grand Commander, the Grand Chancellor, the Grand Hospitaller and the Receiver of the Common Treasure - as well as six other members, all elected by the Order’s Chapter General for a five-year term. They are chosen from among professed knights and knights in obedience. The Grand Master must be a professed knight in perpetual vows. He is elected for life.

Today, the Sovereign Order has a permanent presence in 55 countries, through the intermediary of six Grand Priories, six Subpriories and 47 National Associations, in addition to the many hospitals, medical centres, dispensaries, relief corps, foundations and specialised establishments it looks after in 120 countries.

Its 13,500 members and 80,000 permanent volunteers, backed by qualified staff comprised of over 20,000 doctors, nurses, auxiliaries and other voluntary assistants, devote themselves to serving the poor, the sick and those who suffer. The Order 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.

Video Courtesy of Rome Reports