The Order of St. John Today
|The French had long been cultivating subversive elements in the islands and
in 1797 the campaign was stepped up. The Order's Treasurer, the commander of the fortifications and many French
Knights where in league with France when, on 9th June 1798 Napoleon Bonaparte, on his way to Egypt stopped at Malta
and demanded to be let into the Grand Harbour to enable his ships to take on water. The request was refused by
the then Grandmaster Ferdinand von Hompesch. The following day, when French troops were put
ashore, the fortifications were not properly manned. Resistance was further weekend by pro-French factions and
the indecisive Grandmaster Hompesch. A Maltese deputation made it clear to the Order of St. John that there was
no popular desire for a battle against the French.
As resistance crumbled, the Grandmaster asked for an treaty of peace on the 11th of June and then sent representatives out to Napoleon on board his ship the Orient to discuss the surrender of the Order. The terms offered by Napoleon were harsh. The Order would give up the island and all its property therein and the Grandmaster was given the promise of a pension. The French Knights would receive pensions and be allowed to remain in Malta or return to France and the Maltese were given the usual promises about the maintenance of their religion and privileges.
Within a few days, the Grandmaster and his followers had been forced out of the Island. The party was to take few of the Order's movable possessions and even the archives were left behind. The Order found temporary shelter under the Czar of Russia and although he undertook intensive diplomatic activity on behalf of the Knights in an attempt to get them reinstated at Malta, the Order quickly ceased to be a factor in European diplomacy. The Order of St. John, although lately altered in form and functions, still exists to this day, maintaining a headquarters in Rome, together with hospitals and representatives in many parts of the world.
The departure of the order was heartily welcomed in Malta for the islanders had come to dislike its administration intensely. With the loss of Malta the Orders military functions ceased, and Hospitaller (taking care of hospitals) work again became its only duty. It moved its headquarters to Rome in 1834. The seat of the Grand Magistracy in Rome, under the present Grandmaster, Fra Andrew Bertie has the right of extra- territoriality recognised by the Italian State.
The order continues in almost every country of the world. The Knights of today still fight for the faith, but with medical volunteers, ambulance helicopters and hospitals. There are approximately 12,000 members of the Order around the world today. They are divided into 6 Grand Priories, 3 Sub Priories, and 41 National Associations in 37 countries. The Headquarters of the Order, which is in Rome, has its governing body in the Sovereign Council. It is presided over by the Grandmaster and comprised of the Grand Commander, the Grand Chancellor, the Hospitaller, the Receiver of the Common Treasure, and six Councillors.
The Knights (Order) of Malta operate numerous hospitals and health clinics around the world, as well as major ambulance services and disaster relief agencies. Food, medicines, medical supplies, clothing and other relief supplies are sent all over the world - and the eight-pointed Maltese cross still stands out everywhere as a symbol for charity towards mankind and as a comfort and consolation to the sick and the poor.
In recognition of its international presence as a Hospitaller organisation, the Order of Malta was admitted to the United Nations as a Permanent Observer on the 24th of August 1994. It is one of a handful of non-governmental organisations to belong to the United Nations.
There are three classes of membership in the Order. The Knights of Justice, after completing their noviciate and making the final profession of their solemn vows, are referred to as "Fra", short for Frater, the Latin word for brother. On the 5th of December 1998, the Order of Malta (the Order of St. John) signed a very important agreement with the Maltese Government. This agreement will be very beneficial, both for the Order of St. John as well as for Malta.