Cardinal Burke & the Knights of Malta

Fra. Matthew with Pope Francis
Fra. Matthew with Pope Francis

Raymond Cardinal Burke was recently appointed as Patron of the Sovereign Order of the Knights of Malta. Cardinal Burke is a member of the IRL’s Episcopal Advisory Board and will be the keynote speaker at the IRL’s National Meeting on Friday, April 10, 2015.

The Knights of Malta sounds like something medieval and not at all pertinent for today. This, I found is absolutely not true! They perform admiral and wide-ranging charitable activities and have a world-wide membership of 13,000 as well as 80,000 volunteers, among them 20,000 medical personnel. They are unique in being a religious order comprised of lay people.

Cardinal Burke will be assisting Fra. Matthew Festing, Prince and Grand Master of the “Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta.” Fra. Matthew was elected for life in 2008. He is a descendent of Blessed Adrian Fortescue, a Knight of Malta who was martyred in the 16th century.

According to the Knights of Malta website: The Order of Malta has been a religious Order since 1113, the year it was recognized 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. (They issue their own passports for example. Fascinating!) 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 has two missions: defensio fidei (the defense of the Faith) and obsequium pauperum (care for the poor). Wherever they settled, they built hospitals, hence they are also known as the Knights Hospitallers. Today, they strive to ease the suffering of the sick in hospitals, nursing homes, shantytowns, etc. and try to bring Christian charity to the isolated, victims of persecution and refugees regardless of race or religious faith.

maltese crossFor example, they “operate” a maternity hospital in Bethlehem and a hospital in Haiti. In France the Order of Malta maintains nine medical centers for the disabled. They supply humanitarian disaster relief, for example, in 2008 after the cyclone in Myanmar. I am most familiar with their annual pilgrimage to Lourdes where they accompany thousands of Malades (French for “the sick”) and their caregivers to the shrine. These activities are just the tip of the iceberg of what the Knights do around the world.

The eight points of the Maltese cross symbolize the eight obligations of the knights: truth, faith, repentance, humility, justice, mercy, sincerity and endurance of persecution.

This is all so interesting that we will have to delve into this subject further!

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