Sovereign Military Order of Malta
The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, is a Catholic order based in Rome, Italy, and a sovereign subject of international law. Known as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM), Order of Malta or Knights of Malta, the order has a large number of local priories and associations around the world.
Knights of Malta History
Its origins are said to be from the Knights Hospitaller, founded in Jerusalem in 1050, who had a hospital to provide care for poor and sick pilgrims to the Holy Land. After the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099, during the First Crusade, it became a Catholic military order under its own charter.
When the territory of the Holy Land was lost, the Order operated from Rhodes (1310-1523), and later from Malta (1530-1798), over which it was sovereign.
The Order was ejected from Malta by Napoleon, but survives and retains its claims of sovereignty under international law. The UN granted them permanent observer status. SMOM is considered to be the main successor to the medieval Knights Hospitaller.
Today SMOM has formal diplomatic relations with 100 states (many of which are non-Catholic), and has official relations with another 5 countries, non-state subjects of international law like the European Community and International Committee of the Red Cross, and a number of international organizations.
The order has 12,500 members, 80,000 permanent volunteers, 13,000 medical personnel including doctors, nurses, auxiliaries and paramedics. The goal is to assist the elderly, the handicapped, refugees, children, the homeless, those with terminal illness and leprosy in five continents of the world, without distinction of race or religion.
Through its worldwide relief corps, Malteser International, the Order is also engaged to aid victims of natural disasters, epidemics and armed conflicts.
Knights of Malta, Sovereignty and Organization
The supreme head of the Order is the Grand Master, who is elected for life by the Council Complete of State. Fra’ Matthew Festing was elected by the Council as 79th Grand Master on March 11, 2008.
Prior to the 1990s, all officers of the Order had to be of noble birth, i.e. armigerous for at least 100 years.
However, Knights of Magistral Grace (i.e. those without noble proofs), may make the Promise of Obedience and may, at the discretion of the Grand Master and Sovereign Council, enter the novitiate to become professed Knights of Justice. The latter are religious, essentially monks practising the triple vow of poverty, chastity and obedience, although seldom living in monastic community.
A small minority of the over 12,500 knights and dames are professed religious. Others choose to be a “Knight of Obedience”. Membership of the Order is by invitation only—no solicitations.
Order of Malta, Sovereignty and Military Corp
Because of SMOM’s claimed sovereignty, it issues passports, license plates, stamps, and coins. Starting in 2005, SMOM issued stamps with the euro as the unit of postage, while Scudo (pl. Scudi) remains the SMOM’s official currency.
As a sovereign body, the Order of Malta has the right to maintain a military force, and does so at its Rome headquarters. [Rome is the capital of Italy, the Vatican, and the Order of Malta.]
Commonly referred to as The Military Corps of the Order, the military force in its present form was raised by agreement with the Italian Government in 1877. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta were to assist the Italian army’s injured or sick (in peace or war). In 1908 the agreement was modified so that the Corps also became a fully integral part of the Italian army.
The Corps is known in mainland Europe for its operation of hospital trains during both World Wars. As part of the post-World War Two peace treaty, 36 military aircraft of the Italian Airforce were transferred to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, and flew under the Order’s flag…
Andrew Bertie was the 78th and first British Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
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The Real Presence in the Eucharist: Evangelization of America through Politics