SYDNEY, Australia, JUNE 12, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Frà Matthew Festing, the 79thGrand Master of The Order of Malta, paid the first visit to Australia ever made by the head of this 900-year-old religious order.
The major purpose of the visit was to meet the members and view the hospitaller works of the Order. As a Religious Order of the Roman Catholic Church the Order has members in Solemn Religious Profession and Chaplains, and some 13,000 members worldwide who undertake hospitaller works in more than 100 countries. The Order is also a sovereign entity, having diplomatic relations with over 100 nations.
Frà Matthew first visited Singapore, where the Singapore Association of the Order is well established as a presence in the Region, including works in Indonesia and Myanmar. On his journey through Australia he was accompanied by the Grand Chancellor of the Order, Jean-Pierre Mazery, and the Grand Treasurer, Marchese Gian Luca Chiavari, together with the President of the Australian Association, Antony Macken.
As an ancestor of the Grand Master had been instrumental in the settlement of Albany in Western Australia, he visited that port city, where there is a replica of the brigHMS Amity. This ship had been captained by Lt Colson Festing, when Albany was first established in 1826. Accompanied by Confrere Denis Cullity, Frà Matthew met the Governor of Western Australia, HE Malcolm McCusker, dined with the Archbishop of Perth, Timothy Costelloe, and other notables and members of the Order and also viewed the hospitaller works of the Order in Perth, principally with handicapped people.
Melbourne saw the Grand Master visiting the Carmelite Monastery at Kew and also attending a Mass at the headquarters of the Victorian Branch at Caritas Christi Hospice for the Terminally Ill. This was celebrated by Fr Gerald O’Collins SJ, for many years a professor at the Gregorian University in Rome. The Victorian Branch has been involved with Palliative Care at Caritas and with Eastern Palliative Care for twenty five years. Frà Matthew visited the malades together with the Régent for Australia, Sir James Gobbo. Newman College at The University of Melbourne was the site for a lunch with the 25 young volunteers who generously give their time to distributing specially designed winter apparel, as part of the Order’s innovative ‘Coats for the Homeless’ project. The Grand Master was accorded a Reception at Government House by the Lieutenant Governor of Victoria, Chief Justice Marilyn Warren, which was attended by 150 invitees.
In Canberra, HE Ms Quentin Bryce, the Governor-General of Australia, received the Grand Master at Government House, and the Papal Nuncio hosted a dinner with members and Ambassadors of the Order and senior members of the diplomatic corps. After visiting the Duntroon Military Academy, and the Changi Memorial Church, Frà Matthew toured the Australian War Memorial with members of the Order.
The main part of the visit was in Sydney, where a special dinner was tendered to the Grand Master by the Australian Association in the presence of HRH Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who is the Grand Prior of the Venerable Order of St John. This dinner was well attended by members of the Australian Association and their guests. The Grand Master also met with the NSW based Young Order of Malta at Campion College where a Mass was celebrated. With the President of the Australian Association, Antony Macken, he visited Gorman House at St Vincent’s Hospital, where the Order’s members assist and support the drug detoxification and rehabilitation programme and also take part in the ‘Coats for the Homeless’ project. The other area of activity is the support of the St. Camillus Palliative Care Unit at St Joseph’s Hospital in Auburn, a suburb of Sydney. At a reception for the Grand Master in Sydney he was presented with a framed citation from the NSW Parliament acknowledging the excellent humanitarian work of the Order world-wide and particularly in Timor-Leste.
On Pentecost Sunday, Mass was celebrated at St Mary’s Cathedral by Bishop Julian Porteous and Chaplains of the Order. Members from Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and other Australian cities attended this Mass. During this visit, the High Charges of the Order met with the three Ambassadors of the Order, accredited to Timor-Leste, Thailand and Cambodia, and Far East Asia.
Founded in 1974, the Australian Association undertakes many projects in the States and Territories of Australia, and has been a long term contributor to hospitaller projects in Timor-Leste, Papua-New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Lebanon. There are almost 300 Knights and Dames of The Order of Malta in Australia and New Zealand, as well as in Hong Kong and Thailand.