1) What is the Order of Malta?

The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and Malta, better known as the Sovereign Order of Malta, has a two-fold nature. It is one of the most ancient religious Catholic Orders, founded in Jerusalem in around 1050. It celebrated the 9th centennial of its official foundation in 1999. At the same time it has always been recognized by nations as an independent subject of international law.

The Order’s mission is summed up in its motto “Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum” —defense of the faith and assistance to the suffering.

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. This community, which was created by Amalfitan Merchants around 1050, ran a hospice providing care and shelter for pilgrims to the Holy Land. In 1113 it received formal acknowledgement as a religious Order from Pope Paschal II. Before the loss of the island of Malta (1798) most of the knights were religious, having taken the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Today, although some members of the Order are professed knights (having taken the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience), others have pronounced only the promise of obedience. Most of the Order’s 10,000 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 Church and to expending their energies in serving the Faith and assisting others.

3) Is it a military Order?

The Order had to become military to protect the pilgrims and the sick and to defend the Christian territories in the Holy Land. The Order ceased to carry out this function when it lost Malta (1798).

Today the Order preserves only the military 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 works in the field of medical and social care and humanitarian aid, in over 110 countries, supported by the diplomatic relations it currently has with 90 nations. The Order also runs hospitals, medical centres, day hospitals, nursing homes for the elderly and the disabled, and special centres for the terminally ill . In many countries the Order’s volunteer corps provide first aid, social services, emergency and humanitarian interventions.

ECOM, the special emergency corps of the Order of Malta, works in the front line in natural disasters and armed conflicts.

For over 40 years, the Order has been dealing extensively with the treatment of leprosy—a disease that unfortunately still plagues various areas of the world – through its CIOMAL foundation (Comite International de l’Ordre de Malte pour la Lepre). CIOMAL is also involved in the fight against disease or handicaps and has launched programmes to assist mothers and children in the third world who suffer from AIDS.

The Order is also engaged in the cultural field.

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 79th Prince and Grand Master Fra’ Mathew Festing, 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 regularly). 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.

7) What is the international organization of the Order?

Today, the Order is present in 59 countries. It has 6 Grand Priories, 6 Subpriories and 47 National Associations.

8) How many members does the Order have?

The Order is made up of more than 12,500 Knights and Dames.

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

The most significant missions have been carried out in Kosovo and Macedonia, Mozambique, in the Great Lakes territory in Africa, Turkey, Salvador and India.

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

One can become a member only by invitation. For further information we recommend contacting your Grand Priory or National Association. Please see the “The Order in the World” section on this website for a list of Order organizations in the various countries.

11) How does one become a volunteer?

Volunteers are most welcome. You should ask the National Association of your country. Please see the section “The Order in the World” on this website for a list of Order organizations in the various countries.

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

In accordance with public international law, the Order maintains full diplomatic relations with 90 countries through its embassies. It also has permanent observer status at the United Nations and the Commission of the European Union as well as in 16 International Organizations such as the FAO and UNESCO. Diplomatic relations allow the Order to intervene with timely and effective action in the event of natural disaster or armed conflict. Due to its neutral, impartial and non-political nature, the Order can act as a mediator whenever a State requests its intervention to settle a dispute.

13) How are the Order’s activities financed?

Activities are funded essentially by its members. Funds come from private donations and vary according to different countries and situations. Resources for hospitals and medical activities usually come from agreements stipulated with the national health and social systems. The same is true for emergency services. In developing countries, activities are often backed by grants from governments, the European Commission or other international organizations. Funds also come from donations or benefactors’ contributions to Order’s activities.

14) Where is the Order based?

After the loss of the island of Malta, the Order settled permanently in Rome, Italy, in 1834. Its two headquarters, granted with extraterritoriality, are the Palazzo Malta in Via dei Condotti 68 – where the Grand Master resides and Government Bodies meet—and the Villa Malta on the Aventine. The latter hosts the Grand Priory of Rome, the Embassy of the Order to the Holy See and the Embassy of the Order to the Italian Republic.