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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 108 (Suppl.), December 2008



Baronessa Martine JONET

Association of the Order of Malta



Eminence, Excellencies, Monseigneur, dear friends, 

And I use the word "friends" intentionally because having shared our experiences with the poorest of the poor together in this room this has certainly created amongst us that kind of link that, I dare to say, is some way of friendship. That was probably not the first objective but it is a very positive effect of this meeting.

Before explaining about my pastoral concern, I would like to first thank  everyone else for  their commitment; a tout Seigneur tout honneur, the authorities who invited us, and all of you around this table for such a constructive meeting. I am really full of admiration for what you do in your own different fields of action.

Archbishop Marchetto asked me to say a few words about what the Order of Malta does. I said yesterday that it is impossible to summarize the services of the Order - even restricted to homeless people - all around the world -, but I will emphasize two aspects which are more specific to our mission:

            (1)       The medical aspect

            (2)       The diplomatic aspect  

1) The medical aspect of our care to homeless people

Our first vocation, in our history and in the in our present day services is to be Hospitallers. It means that we run many hospitals across all continents. But it means also that in our European day or night shelters for homeless people, as anywhere else, the job of doctors or nurses has a great importance.

Of course, each visitor receives from us the personal attention and the respect that are the basic elements of human dignity.

But, whether in countries with the best social welfare systems or in less organized areas, living without a roof includes a fast physical deterioration with the illnesses brought by a lack of the most basic hygiene.

Therefore, we attach a great importance to infirmary, pedicure, shower, clean clothes, and also to screening contagious diseases or other pathologies linked to poor hygiene, such as tuberculosis, scabies, and so on...the list is long. By the way, as we spoke yesterday about the relationships with public authorities, this prevention aspect of the service allows us to promote without lying that to welcome homeless people is an important factor in public health and urban safety.

Pope Jean-Paul II defined the Order of Malta, through its humanitarian and charity activities, as being “at the service of persons injured by life”.

The message of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples finds in welcoming homeless people a particular illustration, daily repeated in this Christian charity spirit that is the vocation of the Order of Malta of which the motto since its creation in the 12th century is “Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum”. 

2) The diplomatic aspect

The diplomatic aspect does not seem of high importance at first sight, but plays a determinant role, amongst others, in case of emergencies and catastrophes.

The Order of Malta is a sovereign subject of international law, with its own constitution, and has diplomatic relations with 99 countries - many of which are non-Catholic - and has representations in major European countries, as well as to European and international organizations. In the international political field, the Order of Malta is neutral, impartial and non-political. Therefore, it can discretely and successfully act as a mediator between States, which is, of high importance.

That being said, the diplomatic activities of the Order, of course, closely linked to its humanitarian mission.

I can give you one practical example of the utility of diplomatic relations that, which as a Belgian, I know better. In the international actions that each of our national associations supports, the Belgian Association sustains medical entities in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Everybody is aware of how difficult the situation is there. The fact that the Order has diplomatic relations with that country allows us to send any medical items from Belgium without having to undergo custom problems. Above that, Malteser International, the Order of Malta's worldwide relief service provides humanitarian emergency aid in all parts of the world, including medical emergency relief measures as well as long-term rehabilitation measures and development programmes. 

Relief and assistance after earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis, together with refugee relief, the organization covers around 200 humanitarian projects concerning homeless people in about 30 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas, without distinction of religion or race.

Christian values and the humanitarian principles of impartiality and independence are the foundation of its work, which is not only to provide emergency relief, but also to implement rehabilitation measures and to facilitate the link between emergency relief and sustainable development.

Health care services and reducing vulnerability and poverty are applied on a long term process, including, of course, the care of homeless people which is the topic of our meeting.

I have taken enough of your time: for further information don't hesitate to visit the site           

Thank you for your attention.