H.M.E.H. The Prince and Grandmaster Frà Matthew Festing
Over 350 participants from all over the world
The Sovereign Order of Malta’s International Strategic Seminar was held from 12 to 17 February 2014. The five-yearly conference brought together the Order’s government, leaders of the national associations, ambassadors, diplomats, members of the Order and directors of the volunteer corps to discuss future strategies and the challenges to be faced. After Malta in 2004 and Venice in 2009, this year the meeting venue was Rhodes, so significant in the Order’s history as seat of the Grand Master and government for over 200 years from 1310 to 1523.
Divided into 15 “Working Groups”, over the four days some 350 participants discussed the Order’s mission as sovereign entity, its response to Pope Francis’ priorities and the selection and training of new members and volunteers. Other topics included the Order’s cultural identity, its mission to help the marginalized and excluded with a constant focus on the young, as the Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing recalled in his opening speech. “We are at a turning point in our history; we have to connect our historic mission with the needs and hallmarks of the modern world,” the Grand Master said, expressing the hope for an increasing involvement of the young in the Order’s life.
There were many opportunities for prayer during the event, that culminated with a guided visit of the old town of Rhodes, followed by a procession and closing mass in the church of St. Francis of Assisi.
Fra’ Matthew Festing, H.M.E.H. the Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Military
Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta
Dear Confreres, dear friends,
It is now six years since I became Grand Master, and five since we met in Venice, when I was relatively newly elected and had had considerably less experience than now. Yet, for all the extraordinary privilege and experiences I have encountered in recent years, my priority remains the humble service of the sick and the poor. It is this role of the Order, our constant and devoted help for those who suffer, which has stood the test of time and I believe it will continue to serve as our purpose for centuries to come.
Our ability to stand independently of other governments and organisations puts us in a unique position to help in our complicated, divided and war-torn world. We stand taller and stronger because of our faith. We achieve extraordinary feats across nations, religions, cultures and creeds, facilitating interfaith dialogue and cooperation in some of the most complicated environments imaginable. One need only look at the Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem, and our work with the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, or the new programme by Malteser International with indigenous communities in Colombia, to understand the importance of our approach.
Over the last few years, I have come to understand more completely the depth and complexity of our global institution. As Grand Master, I see first-hand the extraordinary commitment and compassion that our members and volunteers display towards the people they work with, and the unique, personal, loving way in which they work with those whom the rest of the world has forgotten. From prison ministries to leper colonies to war zones – the Order helps individuals who have been overlooked. This is something I want more people to understand about the Order. Alongside our spirituality, traditions and our sovereignty, it is what sets us apart from other organisations, and indeed from other states.
I look forward to the opportunity to spend time with our Priors, Presidents, Ambassadors, Hospitallers and the rest of our delegates in Rhodes at our Strategy Seminar – and to think about how we safeguard and build upon the many strengths of our Order in the years ahead. The Global Fund for Forgotten People will be instrumental as we build this future, helping us to develop new sources of income, to support the hospitaller works, and to enhance understanding of our Order’s role in the world amongst our more remote membership and the wider public. All three of these activities of the Fund meet objectives we identified together in Venice five years ago.
I wish to extend my heartfelt thanks to all those involved in the Order. In particular, I want to thank those of you who have developed work of the Order in service of those who need us most. This is at once humbling to see, and a source of great pride.
I very much look forward to hearing from you how you want to help the Order grow and flourish in the years that come, and I am depending on you to make this happen – in whatever role you may have – as we work together in the service of the Forgotten.
Fra’ Matthew Festing
H.M.E.H. Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta