The responsibilities ahead of us

Most Excellent dear Lieutenant ad interim, Ludwig Hoffmann von Rumerstein,

Most Excellent dear Members of the Council Complete of State,

I offer my cordial and respectful greetings to each of you, as you are about to take one of the most significant actions in the life of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta. You shall be fulfilling this duty at a delicate time in your centuries-old history. It is therefore with a strong sense of responsibility that I am addressing you, carefully considering my duties as Special Delegate and in particular the duty to “oversee the spiritual and moral renewal of the Order of Malta”, as I was asked to do by Pope Francis in his Letter of Appointment of the Special Delegate, of February 2nd.

I wish to start this meeting by reading the Letter the Holy Father has decided to address to you:

Reading of the Letter of the Holy Father

Dear brothers, dear friends, we are all aware of the events that have led us here and we cannot ignore that the eyes of the public opinion are upon us (see article in Le Monde of 10 April 2017); but, most of all, we must not forget that the Holy Father and the Church rely on us and, at the same time, support us with prayers and affection.

Ever since the start of my mission as Special Delegate, I have had the opportunity to meet with many members of the First, the Second and the Third Class and I was impressed by your desire to uphold the values of the Order, your spirit of service and your love for the Church. I firmly believe that the difficult times you have been through were a test that will help you strengthen the Order of Malta.

As has frequently happened in the history of the Church, a crisis – no matter how painful – becomes the tool chosen by Providence to strengthen adherence to the values that characterize us. Contrary to what has been suggested by the media, the Order of Malta is not facing an identity crisis but is instead experiencing a time when its values are being rediscovered and strengthened.

At this morning’s meeting with the Knights of Justice, I decided to pay special attention to the purely religious nature that characterizes the Order of Malta. Now I wish to give special attention to its two distinguishing values which are, on one hand, tuitio fidei – meant as the definition of all the measures that can enhance the experience of God - and on the other, obsequium pauperum – meant as that special mission by the Order of Malta has been for almost ten centuries now, one of the finest examples of Christian charity in the world.

The spiritual quality of the members of the Order: tuitio fidei

You all, I am sure, have a strong desire to raise the spiritual level of your personal experience and see the Order of Malta as a strong and thriving Institution. There are a number of means available to achieve this result and most of them are sound and in operation. We only need to allow the energy that derives from the desire for sanctification, felt by us all, to fortify and invigorate these tools more and more. In this respect, I wish to share with you some considerations on the specifically religious aspect of the Order that have emerged from the general consultation of the last few weeks.

In primis, it is essential to continue to monitor the Professed Knights’ selection process and to work to develop a vocational initiative capable of bringing to the forefront the moral prerequisites (see art. 6-16, Code) of those who will be admitted.

Hence, the efforts made to provide a sound formation (see art. 17-32, Code), that will enable candidates to religious life to put into practice all of the gift of Grace, will be all the more important in helping live their vocation to consecrated life to the full. Simili modo, the sanctity of Knight and Dames in obedience and members of the Third Class shall also have to be protected through appropriate practical measures.

There is clearly a need for new religious vocations in consideration of the average age for taking first vows, which is 58, and also the average age of Professed Knights, which is around 69; from now on, however, it will be essential to strengthen cooperation between members of the First Class and those of the Second and Third Classes. Indeed, it is only better integration amongst members of all Classes that can ensure that all members will give the best of themselves.

The same applies to the many Chaplains – and by Chaplains I mean the Prelate and the Conventual Chaplains, but also the Conventual Chaplains ad honorem and the Magistral Chaplains – who have been so far and shall continue to be in the future a valuable instrument in the development of a spirit of sanctity within the Order, and whose role shall probably need to be strengthened in order to make their services more effective.

Dear brothers, so many members of the Order of Malta have extraordinary talent in terms of intelligence, culture and education! It is therefore a matter of enhancing what is already available to the Order of Malta, strengthening and remodelling structures that already exist – as, for instance, permanent formation – so that they may provide effective support along the pathway towards sanctity.

The service to charity, the Order’s raison d’être: the obsequium pauperum

In this respect, it will be necessary to define a better integration of the religious Order within the Church – and this in respect of both the universal Church and every particular Church where you are active. Your zeal and fruitful apostolic work are takes part in the Church’s mission. The Order’s charism is an extremely valuable asset for the Church.

Wherever it is present, the Order of Malta is an expression and an instrument – more than ever necessary! – of the Church in the world.

There is possibly no other context in which this continuity between the Church and the Order of Malta is as concretely expressed in the eyes of Christian believers – and, I might say, also in the eyes of those who are not baptised – as in the service to charity: it constitutes the true spirit, the very soul of the Order of Malta and, therefore, is all a powerful cementing element.

For this reason, the obsequium pauperum expressed through the wonderful and praiseworthy services you offer, especially in the fields of health and social care, must continue to draw its inspiration always from an evangelical spirit and it must never be polluted by mundane influences. The figure of Christ, poor, chaste and obedient, must be tangible and transpire in all your activities, in your every project.

Tuitio fidei and obsequium pauperum are an indivisible pair, the two sides of the same coin. When the Order was established in Jerusalem by the Blessed Gerard, he set up both a hospital for the sick and a convent for pilgrims: the Order of Malta is “hospitaller” – from the Latin adjective hospitalis – in that it offers a generous and beneficial welcome at both the physical and the spiritual level. Therefore, providing services, even of a good quality, without them being imbued with a spirituality of love towards others, would be a betrayal of your identity.

Naturally, ensuring an evangelical spirit also means guaranteeing transparent economic management, through which the Christian values define the way in which resources are raised, used and invested. More than anything, however, it is important for all members of the Order to feel in the depths of their heart this indivisible union between the love that leads to God and the charity that prompts them to help their brothers.

The reform project

Dear Members of the Council Complete of State, I have told you that the few points listed above have been collected from your own suggestions. I am grateful to everyone – so many of you – who chose to take part in the general consultation that the Lieutenant ad interim and I deemed essential. I cannot conceal my admiration for the serious and professional approach thanks to which this consultation was duly completed in a very short period of time.

With your generous participation, you have summarised the desires, concerns and hopes of the Order that are focused on three broad areas: the role of the government bodies, relations among members of the Order and a definition of its relationship with the Church. Be assured, I do not intend to go into the details of the reform, nor do I expect to guide the process through which you yourselves shall consider the proposals put forward so far. I only wish to tell you that it will be my duty to be at your side to help you in any way I can.

Dear friends, the challenge ahead of you – of us, in fact – will take time, cooperation and prayer. I am certain that the commitment and devotion needed to overcome the inevitable difficulties we shall encounter shall not be lacking. In our efforts, our aim will be to involve all of the Order’s vital forces to achieve a good, or rather, an excellent reform. In order to succeed we shall: take, patiently, all the time that is needed; listen, humbly, to everyone, without excluding anyone; assess, wisely, every aspect without neglecting any details.

When these sensitive developments need to be faced in the life of a religious Order, it is important to avoid two excesses: first, rash innovation with no respect for tradition, second, excessive attachment to the customs of tradition but not its essence. A true reform, as indicated by the Vatican Council II, is a reform that revives a loyalty to the spiritual heritage that is not a repetition of the past, nor is it innovation without reference to its values: “renewal of the religious life includes both the constant return to the sources of all Christian life and to the original spirit of the institutes and their adaptation to the changed conditions of our time (n. 2, Decree Perfectae caritatis, 28 October 1965).

This said and considering that the Council Complete of State has already begun, allow me to offer a suggestion: to see whether it might not be appropriate, before you complete your work, for you the Members to define the committees and sub-committees that will be entrusted with studying the main areas of the reform; or, at least, a central committee charged with establishing said committees and ensuring their proper operation. If these bodies are not established, indeed, it will not be possible to put the reform into practice.

The election, a first step along a pathway of communion

Before concluding, I cannot fail to mention the central issue that you, Members of the Council Complete of State, shall be required to resolve before any other. I am aware that you have discussed the matter among yourselves and in no way do I intend to take your place in this delicate decision. Over the next hours, you shall have to choose whether to elect a Grand Master or a Grand Master’s Lieutenant. The answer is in your hands and each and every one of you will be required to answer according to his conscience. But the future of the reform of the Order of Malta will partly – or perhaps mostly – depend on this decision.

Personally, I would consider it prudent for the electoral choice you are to make to be subordinate to the will to reform the Order, so clearly expressed in the above-mentioned consultation. This implies – once more according my own personal opinion – that the choice between a Grand Master or a Grand Master’s Lieutenant that you are about to make, should be made bearing in mind which of the two is better suited to launching, promoting and completing the reform process ahead. I would therefore find it more appropriate for you to give the Sovereign Military Order of Malta a new Grand Master and complete Government structures after, and not before, an Extraordinary Chapter General has completed the renewal process.

Whatever the pathway you shall choose to take, in any case I urge you to choose an irreproachable and wise religious person who will have the ability to lead you in harmony, who ardently desires unity for the Order and who shall look to future opportunities rather than past limitations. Be aware that you shall always have my support and whoever you shall deem best suited to perform the task of leading you in future months shall have my full and sure support.

What the Order of Malta needs most is the serenity that comes from knowing that everyone, by doing their best, shall succeed in being  open up to their brothers to choose, together, a pathway that may give the Institute fresh life and broad-mindedness within loyalty to its charisma. I said earlier that many are watching you and trustfully await your decision. Do not disappoint them, above all in preserving the brotherly relations that have always characterised your style and that distinguish you from others who, in civil society, are involved in unbridled power struggles. The Church is communion (se n. 8, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 21 November 1964) and the Order of Malta, as its emanation, lives on communion with the Church. This election and the reform process that will follow, must be now and in the future an expression of communion which is the bond of charity that unites us.

Now, dear brothers, I shall leave you and will be travelling with the Holy Father on an Apostolic Trip that, as you can well imagine, is extremely sensitive; for this reason, I humbly ask you to keep the Holy Father in your prayers. We shall meet again, in two days time, to celebrate the Holy Mass of the third Sunday of Easter and together give thanks to God for all that you will experience and decide in these hours that are so important to you and to the brothers you represent here.

Meanwhile, in view of the task ahead of you and as mandated by Pope Francis, I impart a special apostolic Blessing to you all.