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 state and as such is subject to international law.
In this respect the religious character of the Order coexists with its full sovereignty. The Grand Master effectively is 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 of Malta is a lay religious Order according to Canon Law, where some of its members are religious – having professed the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience – while others have taken a special vow of obedience. However the great majority of the Knights and Dames are lay members. The Grand Master of the Order is elected from among the Professed Knights of Perpetual Vows. The eight-pointed Cross which symbolizes the Order represents the eight Beatitudes and is thus a visual memento of its spirituality.
According to the Constitution, members of the Order of Malta are required to maintain exemplary Christian behavior in their private and public lives, thus contributing to the maintenance of the Order’s traditions.
The Pope appoints a Cardinal as his representative to the Order, the Cardinalis Patronus, whose duty it is to promote the spiritual interests of the Order and of its members and to maintain relations with the Holy See.
The Pope also appoints the Prelate of the Order from the three candidates proposed by the Grand Master. The Prelate is the ecclesiastic superior of the Order’s clergy.
The Order remains true to its inspiring principles: Protecting the Faith “Tuitio Fidei” and service to the suffering “Obsequium Pauperum”. Its members share the same vocation and strive together for solidarity, justice and peace, based on the Gospels’ teachings and in the closest communion with the Holy See. They are involved in active and dynamic charity supported by prayer. No Knight or Dame is made such by privilege of birth or merits acquired, but for having answered the call to be where there is a material or moral need, where there is suffering.
Throughout history, wherever the Knights Hospitallers settled, they would always establish a Hospital and Hospice first. And then, if needed, they would also build defensive fortifications.
What does being a Hospitaller mean in the Third Millennium? It means dedicating oneself to easing suffering and to bringing the balm of Christian charity to the sick, wherever it may be needed.
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