Highest award conferred on Order of Malta leader

Highest award conferred on Order of Malta leader

PALACE VISITOR Fra’ Matthew Festing, prince and grand master of the Sovereign Order of Malta, is greeted by Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman as President Aquino looks on. Also in photo are (from left) Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan and acting Health Secretary Janette Garin. GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE

MANILA, Philippines–The leader of the Sovereign Order of Malta paid a courtesy call on President Aquino on Tuesday at Malacañang, highlighting a visit centered on the Order’s humanitarian work in the country.

The arrival in the country of the Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Order of Malta, Fra’ Matthew Festing, coincided with the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and the Order of Malta.

Based in Rome, the Order has its own government and has diplomatic relations with 105 countries.

The President conferred on Fra’ Matthew the Order of Sikatuna, Rank of Raja, the highest order of diplomatic merit the Filipino people bestow on the leader of a sovereign state.

“May it stand as a symbol of our gratitude for the Order’s friendship and assistance throughout the last half-century,” Aquino said.

In turn, Fra’ Matthew conferred the Order Pro Merito Melitensi, Grand Collar, on Aquino.

For the survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (Haiyan), the Order built 700 houses in Basey, Samar and Bantayan islands in Cebu.

In a brief Palace ceremony, Fra’ Matthew turned over to Aquino the symbolic key to the new houses.

“We stand by our commitment to work with your people accompanying the delivery of goods and the construction of infrastructure with solidarity and brotherhood embodied in our shared values… Our best wishes for the people who will live there in peace, harmony and security,” the Grand Master said.

In response, President Aquino expressed gratitude for the Order’s “generosity towards their fellowmen,” adding that this complemented the government’s “build back better” effort aimed at “breaking the vicious cycle of destruction and reconstruction by emphasizing long-term resilience in our reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts.”

Aquino also welcomed the plans of Malteser International, the Order’s relief and humanitarian arm, to establish a regional office in Southeast Asia.

“Its physical presence in our part of the world will certainly benefit Asian countries by allowing more effective coordination and execution of relief activities, and facilitating our increased cooperation in areas of mutual benefit,” the President said.

Aquino recalled that the Order also extended humanitarian relief after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991.

The Sovereign Military Hospitaller of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, simply known as the Sovereign Order of Malta, is a lay religious order, traditionally of military, chivalrous and noble nature.

It is one of the oldest institutions of Western and Christian civilization, beginning in the 11th century in Jerusalem as a monastic community which ran a hospital to care for pilgrims of any religious faith or race.

Guided by its principle of “nurturing, witnessing and protecting the faith and serving the poor and the sick,” the Order has carried this centuries-old mission through humanitarian assistance and medical and social activities to over 120 countries today.

The Order of Malta is also a sovereign subject of international law, with its own constitution, passports, stamps and public institutions. It has 13,500 members.

Source: orderofmalta.int, Inquirer