Web Post

Interview of the Grand Master Fra’ John Dunlap with the Polish Catholic News Agency, KAI



We serve humanity in all its beauty and in all its misery, says Grand Master of the Order of Malta Fra’ John T. Dunlap in an interview with KAI. He explains that members of this lay religious order are committed “to impartially serving the poor and sick throughout the world, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, religion”. The Sovereign Order, which is a subject of international law, maintains diplomatic relations with 113 countries. “Our diplomacy is not a selfish diplomacy, serving the interests of the Order worldwide. We promote the interests of the poor and the sick,” explains the Grand Master.

KAI: The Order of Malta is a lay religious order. What does this mean in the Catholic Church?

The only full members of the Order of Malta are its ‘lay religious’, or Knights of Justice. A lay religious order is one whose superiors and members are lay men and women who have taken the gospel vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. This contrasts with ‘clerical orders’, whose superiors and members are ordained priests. The Order of Malta is therefore a lay religious order by virtue of the fact that it has Knights of the First Class who take evangelical vows. On the other hand, the Knights and Dames of the Second and Third Classes work together with the Religious of the First Class, serving our Masters – the sick and the poor. In carrying out this service, we are all building the Kingdom of God together.

KAI: The Order of Malta is a subject of international law, with ambassadors accredited to state governments, issuing diplomatic passports, postage stamps and currency. How can this be reconciled with its religious character in a world where there is a separation of Church and State?

– We must remember that what is most remarkable, if not entirely unique about the Order of Malta is that it is first and foremost a religious order, but also a sovereign entity. As far as the internal governance of the Order is concerned, there is no doubt that there cannot be a so-called separation of Church and State. However, the internal governance of the Order does not affect our commitment to impartially serve the poor and the sick throughout the world, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, religion or any other factor. We serve humanity in all its beauty and in all its misery.

Our diplomatic corps, which maintains relations with 113 countries, is crucial in supporting our worldwide relief efforts. Our diplomacy is not selfish diplomacy, serving the interests of the Order worldwide. We support the interests of the poor and the sick. Our diplomacy supports the efforts of the Hospitallers [responsible for the humanitarian work of the Order of Malta – KAI] and works in places of violence, hunger and humanitarian disasters. The fact that we draw inspiration from our Roman Catholic traditions and faith does not change our strict neutrality in serving the weak and forgotten of society.

KAI: The Order of Malta was once a knightly order, but today it has a mainly charitable function. What is the scale of this assistance and where is it given? Is the Order currently focusing its attention on helping Ukraine?

– In the past, members of the Order of Malta belonged to the families of the European aristocracy; today, admission to the Order is based on merit gained through commitment to the Order’s work. As in the past, the mission of the Order of Malta is to bear witness to the faith and to help the sick and those in need, regardless of religion, origin or gender. In carrying out this work in 120 countries on five continents, the Order relies on a network of 133 diplomatic missions, 52,000 professionals and almost 100,000 volunteers. Its activities are developing in the areas of social and medical assistance, support for victims of war and natural disasters and in the main current crisis areas. In Ukraine, the Order of Malta has assisted more than 300,000 people at the borders, distributed 6,700 tonnes of humanitarian aid in 71 different cities of the country and provided psychological assistance and first aid training.

In the rest of the world, the Order of Malta directly funds and manages several hundred medical centres, 15 hospitals and a hundred homes for the elderly, as well as ambulances and first aid operations. In the Middle East, it helps conflict-affected populations and runs the only hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit in Bethlehem on the West Bank. It takes part in rescue operations for migrants in the Mediterranean. It promotes the sustainable use of resources and environmentally sustainable development projects, especially in the countries most affected by climate change, within the framework of the concept of integral ecology promoted by Pope Francis in his encyclical ‘Laudato sì’.

KAI: The internal crisis in the Order of Malta ended after a few years with the drafting of a new Constitution and the election of new authorities. What was this crisis and how is the Order’s renewal progressing?

– On 3 September 2022, Pope Francis promulgated the new Constitutional Charter and Code of the Order of Malta. On 27 January 2023, the Extraordinary General Chapter elected a new Sovereign Council, or government, of the Sovereign Order of Malta and on 3 May, to my surprise and by the grace of God, I was elected the 81st Grand Master, the first non-European Grand Master in our history.

To strengthen its role in the third millennium, the Order of Malta has embarked on a new phase in its almost 1,000-year history, unwaveringly adhering to the motto: “Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum” (To witness to the faith and serve those in need). The reform restores certain fundamental elements of the religious nature of the Order, revitalising the spiritual dimension, increasing the role of members after vows. It supports rather than detracts from the Order’s humanitarian mission, which continues to be pursued with renewed vigour.

KAI: Does the Association of Polish Cavaliers of Malta play a significant role in the life of the Order?

– The Association of the Polish Cavaliers of Malta is one of the 48 national associations of the Order. At present it has only 140 members, so it is small in comparison with some other associations. However, it occupies an important place on the map of our activities. The history of the Polish Association is quite complicated. Before the restoration of independence in 1918. Poles had the possibility of belonging to associations in other countries or in gremio religionis [i.e. reporting not to local national structures but directly to the Grand Commander in Rome – KAI]. The Association of the Polish Knights of Malta was formally registered in 1920, but when the Communists took power after the Second World War, the Association was banned in Poland and had to operate abroad, mainly from London and Rome. It was only in 1992 that it was reactivated in Poland and since then it has built up an impressive network of projects from scratch.

The Polish presence in the Order has always been important. Many of the Order’s Polish members were outstanding patriots who dedicated themselves to the rebuilding of Poland on the military, political, diplomatic and scientific levels, such as General Władysław Anders, Cardinals Aleksander Kakowski and August Hlond, Józef Piłsudski and Ignacy Mościcki. Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński was also a member of the Order, but in order to avoid persecution, he became a member in gremio religionis.

The role of Poles in the Order grew significantly during the war in Ukraine, when this relatively small organisation, with the help of our other associations and with the participation of an impressive number of volunteers, was able to rapidly establish a programme of humanitarian aid, from the organisation of medical posts at borders and railway stations, to the long-term assistance programmes still in place for refugees remaining in Poland. The organisation of the 30th International Conference of Hospitallers of the Order of Malta on 15-17 March this year in Krakow is further evidence of the important role of the Polish Association. Krakow was chosen to emphasise the proximity to the Ukrainian population beset by war and to highlight the enormous humanitarian effort made by all bodies of the Order of Malta, especially those bordering Ukraine, to help refugees, the displaced and the wounded. The election was at the same time a tribute to the Poles who welcomed thousands of Ukrainian refugees into their homes and schools, providing them with health and social care. I therefore took part in the Conference to express my gratitude and support to the Hospitallers responsible for the humanitarian work of the Order of Malta.

KAI: During your official visit to Poland, Your Highness met with President Andrzej Duda. What was the subject of this conversation?

– I was very touched by the warmth shown by President Duda and I would like to reciprocate such kind hospitality, so I invited him to visit Rome in 2025, when we will celebrate 35 years of diplomatic relations. During the visit, we noted the excellent cooperation in the humanitarian field, both in Poland and in third countries, and the President expressed his appreciation for the work of the Order of Malta. I would like to convey to the President my warmest thanks for the support of the Polish authorities for our Association and charity. During my stay in Poland, I was very touched by the wonderful work done for those in need. I had the opportunity to visit several projects, including a centre for the comprehensive diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of children with various mental and physical disabilities. I would like to thank the many young Polish volunteers for their extraordinary commitment and professionalism.

During the meeting with President Duda, we also discussed global challenges and the need to strengthen diplomatic action in the face of the growing number of armed conflicts and violations of international humanitarian law. We agreed that multilateralism is the only solution to address the crises we face.

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta - Canadian Association

Email: executivedirector@orderofmaltacanada.org, Telephone: (613) 731-8897