ROME, JAN. 10, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Misinformation about the Order of Malta puts the lives of volunteers offering humanitarian assistance in grave danger, said the group’s grandmaster.
In his traditional New Year’s address, Fra’ Andrew Bertie spoke Tuesday with the diplomatic corps accredited to the order, giving an overview of the organization’s service to the poor and sick in 2007. He lamented “confusions created by the media, careless of verifying their sources,” which he said can have “mortal consequences.”
The Order of Malta was founded in the 11th century and exists today as a sovereign subject of international law, with its own constitution, passports and public institutions. The order has diplomatic relations with 99 states. It is dedicated to the care of the poor and sick and offers services ranging from ambulances to homes for disabled children.
Fra’ Bertie explained to the diplomatic corps the disaster-relief assistance the order gave in Peru, Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic and Mexico. He then turned his attention to the new health service activities begun in 2007.
The list included the neonatal center added to the maternity hospital in Bethlehem, which delivers some 300 babies a month, 70% of whom are born to Muslim parents. The group also began eight dispensaries in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, with projections to have 36 in the area within five years. In Russia, the grandmaster explained, the order’s services work in conjunction with the Orthodox Church.
Fra’ Bertie expressed his dismay at recent complications for the order.
He explained: “Terrorism — or, more exactly — terrorists — deliberately attack civilian populations, including women and children; they make no distinction between combatants and civilians, each using the others as shields or hostages. The distinction becomes even more blurred when armed forces also provide humanitarian assistance.
“The humanitarian workers on the ground, among whom are members and volunteers of the Order of Malta, are perceived as legitimate targets. They are attacked, ransomed, kidnapped, in occurrences that are becoming more and more frequent; numbers of them have lost their lives.”
Fra’ Bertie called for the protection of personnel: “It is essential that those involved in medical, hospital and health care projects for the victim populations of armed conflicts or civil wars, scrupulously respect the principles of humanity, impartiality and neutrality, independent of any political or partisan consideration.”
He said conflictive situations can be exacerbated by misinformation spread by media.
“I refer here to the new conspiracy theories which have sprung up over recent months in various television channels and newspapers in friendly countries, but associating the sovereign Order of Malta with a private society of mercenaries which it is said are operating in Iraq and Afghanistan for a foreign government,” the grandmaster explained. “These assertions have absolutely no factual basis.
“There is no need […] to recount to you the long history of the [order … ] with its mission to serve those who suffer, without regard to their origin or religion.
“Nor is there any doubt that the authors of these assertions are themselves ill-informed. But they must know that such suggestions disseminated internationally or via the Internet put the lives of our volunteer care[givers] in grave danger as they go about their work of distributing medicines or food in these very countries, under the emblem of the order’s eight-pointed cross.”