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Malta head of state starts visit to PH

/ 04:57 AM March 02, 2015

MANILA, Philippines–Knights of the Philippine Order of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta were honored with a state visit by their Grand Master, Fra’ (for brother) Matthew Festing, who arrived in Manila on Sunday.

As head of a sovereign state, Festing and his delegation of ministers (including two who are princes, and two barons), will be hosted by President Aquino at a state lunch at the Palace on Tuesday.

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The order has a four-century history in the Philippines. Antonio Pigafetta, a survivor of Magellan’s expedition in 1521, grateful for surviving Lapu-Lapu’s onslaught, used connections to join the Knights of the Order of St. John. Other Knights of the oldest chivalrous order occupied high-ranking positions in Spanish-colonial Philippines.

Beginning as a monastic order with a church, monastery and hospice in Jerusalem for the sick and poor among 11th-century pilgrims, the Knights took up arms in the crusades, defeating the Ottoman Empire in the legendary Battle of Lepanto in 1571. Based successively in Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta where Napoleon took it over in 1978, they finally settled in Rome.

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Reverting to their roles as Hospitallers, today’s 13,500 Knights and Dames of Malta work in 120 countries dispensing medical and social care and humanitarian aid. The order maintains diplomatic relations with 105 nations, many of which are non-Catholic.

Malteser International, its worldwide relief agency, works at the front lines of natural disasters and with refugees in armed conflicts.

Diplomatic status

Chief Justice and Ambassador Manuel Moran was the first president of the order’s Philippine Association when it was established in March 1957, later upgraded to diplomatic status.

In the Philippines, among the order’s earliest activities were caring for patients at Culion Leper Colony in Palawan in 1972, and on a 24-hectare property in Tala, Caloocan, for ex-Hansenites. A vocational training center and an agricultural colony aided self-sufficiency, as well as employment at Cardinal Ceramics for them.

Since then, it has worked at a range of homes for the elderly, orphanages and the destitute, and the pedia-oncology ward at Philippine General Hospital, while educating communities on preventing mother-child HIV-AIDS transmission. At major disaster areas, it has built Malteser-funded homes and shelters with latrines in the Visayas and Mindanao, and distributed an estimated billion pesos in medicine, hospital equipment and health kits.

Blankets, water canisters, 150 tons of rice, 1,500,000 canned goods, vegetable packets and garden tools are other disaster relief it has distributed. Rebuilding washed-out farms in northern Luzon and fishponds in the cities of Las Piñas and Parañaque, and in Laguna province, and psychosocial healing form part of its work among disaster and war-torn refugees.

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Donations

Apart from hefty local donations, the Philippine Hospitaller Foundation headed by Mina Carag-Harada partners with the AmeriCares Foundation for drug requirements, Meehan Family Foundation whose chair is a Knight of Malta, and Tom Shoes, which has donated 107,000 pairs of schoolchildren’s shoes, all US-based.

At all times, Malteser keeps 2 tons of emergency supplies in a warehouse on grounds shared with the Philippine order.

A local friend has lent his 80-seat plane to accommodate a delegation Fra’ Festing will lead to Samar, including Ambassador of the Sovereign Order of Malta to the Philippines Odelia Gregorio Arroyo, and the president of the Philippine order, Dr. Leopoldo Lazatin, and his predecessor, Ernest Rufino. Members of the press have been invited to join the entourage on March 5.

When Fra’ Festing visits what typhoons have wrought and how the Philippines Order of Malta and Malteser International have responded, he will be shocked, then elated.

What greater way to defend the faith than with acts of compassion for those in need.

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