Address to the diplomatic corps
Lieutenant of the Grand Master greets the diplomats accredited to the Sovereign Order
Rome, 9 January 2018
The Lieutenant of The Grand Master addresses The diplomatic corps
Fra’Giacomo Dalla Torre today welcomed the Ambassadors for the traditional new year greetings in the Magistral Villa, Rome. His address:
Mr. Doyen, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome! I am very pleased to welcome you here today for the traditional exchange of New Year greetings. I warmly greet all present, and in particular the Ambassadors who have recently begun their valuable mission with us. This year’s audience is taking place exceptionally in the Chapter Room of the Magistral Villa because our church, Santa Maria in Aventino, is currently being restored.
I sincerely thank the Ambassador of the Czech Republic, H.E. Pavel Vosalik, for his encouraging words and for having been an important and attentive Doyen, who, during his diplomatic mission in Rome, regrettably soon to come to an end, has undertaken with dedication and passion admirable initiatives that highlight some of the tragedies of our time. I recall in particular the Conference on Child Victims of Armed Conflicts which took place on World Children’s Day last June. What we will miss about you, dear Ambassador, is your constant commitment to shared ideals and your personal humanity.
Today’s occasion gives me the opportunity to retrace with you a full and demanding year, in which the Sovereign Order of Malta has had to contend with great and unprecedented humanitarian challenges, bringing relief to the most vulnerable in very many parts of the world. Neutrality, impartiality, protection of the most disadvantaged groups in society – and care for our fellow man: these are the founding principles guiding our thousand year old mission. For our Order, the defence of human rights and the protection of the most defenceless – women, children, refugees, the disabled, the elderly, but also religious minorities – are a moral obligation that fully responds to and reflects our ancient Christian charisma.
Faced with the great humanitarian crises occurring in many, indeed too many, corners of the planet, we are there with the victims, to provide medical, psychological and social assistance. In recent years, we have concentrated our actions on assisting migrants and refugees, on the fight against human trafficking, on support for dementia patients and development of new therapies, and on the fight against endemic diseases.
Our mission does not stop at the moment of the emergency but continues long after the cameras have turned away and the lights have gone out. Our only objective is to bring relief and comfort, helping in every way possible to re-establish a social fabric, to give hope to people devastated by wars, or by violence, persecution, or natural disasters.
The humanitarian challenges of 2017 were grave. One has only to look at the number of victims worldwide, especially the children, who are the most vulnerable and the most defenceless. There are 535 million minors living in countries involved in emergencies caused by humans or by the devastating effects of climate changes. We think, too, of the bloody conflicts in South Sudan, and in Syria, where violence continues to rage almost seven years after the start of the civil war. We think of the victims of famine and bombing in Yemen, and of the crises caused by drought in Somalia, the worst ever recorded in the Horn of Africa.
The consequent migrations represent the most profound human drama of our time. While we consider the international conventions establishing the individual rights of refugees and asylum seekers as great achievements, which have to be safeguarded, we realize that these means are not adequate to deal with mass-expulsion and massive flights and exodus. New legal instruments have to be developed. Just as well it is not acceptable that the average duration a refugee stays in a camp is longer than 12 years. New resettlement policies have to elaborated.
Our task as an institution with a history of humanitarian assistance is to help, receive and support its victims, as well as to condemn every attempt to manipulate perception of this reality. When our volunteer doctors and nurses on the vessels of the Italian Coastguard and Navy in the Mediterranean Sea reach out to clasp the hands of desperate, exhausted and wounded people, they do not wonder if those hands belong to a political refugee or an economic migrant, or if the refugees are Catholic or Muslim. They concentrate on rescuing them and saving them from their inhuman suffering. This is a commitment that stretches back exactly ten years, as it was in 2008 that the Order of Malta’s Italian Relief Corps first began its life-saving services in the sea passage that separates Europe from Africa, a path that too often has become a death sentence for thousands of migrants.
Despite some variations in the number of landings on the Italian coast, the flow of migrants leaving from North African shores, in particular from Libya, has not stopped and the pressure on Libya shows no signs of decreasing. The despicable business of human trafficking continues to grow, feeding on the hopes and desperation of migrants who, before their arrival in Libya, have crossed deserts and borders, falling prey to unscrupulous people. To tackle this terrible scourge, now achieving unprecedented levels of sophistication, we have recently appointed two Ambassadors with the specific task of keeping the spotlight focussed on this illegal transport of people. In 2016, these illegal transports involved some 20 million desperate human beings, over 70% of whom were women and children. Our Ambassadors are engaged in Nigeria – the departure point for many trafficking victims – and in Geneva. Their task is to raise the awareness of humanitarian institutions and to support the implementation of the United Nations protocol on the prevention, suppression and prosecution of human trafficking.
The situation in Libya is at the point of collapse, as we can see in the images coming from the detention centres spread around the country, many of which are illegal and inaccessible. The migrants we save every day and who recount the torture, abuse and physical and sexual violence are the witnesses. Our Libyan representatives, representatives of their institutions and civil society, tell us this too. For over two years, the Grand Magistry has been engaged in promoting dialogue on humanitarian topics in Libya with local institutions and international delegations. The latest in a series of meetings was held last November in Tunis and launched a lively debate on human rights violations and the need to achieve local, regional and international policies that place the protection of the individual at the top of their agenda. As well as the Order of Malta, led by Grand Chancellor Albrecht Boeselager, representatives of the European Union, the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations participated. The proposals which resulted from the meetings will be developed to form a concrete action plan for resolving the country’s current economic and social deadlock, which is progressively weakening the Libyan population and its infrastructure.
With the aim of strengthening the Libyan institutions operating under the aegis of the internationally recognised Tripoli government, our commitment continues under the banner of EUNAVFOR MED (the European Union Naval Force Mediterranean which is one element of a broader EU comprehensive response to the migration issue). Together with the Italian Coastguard, we provide ‘Search and Rescue at sea’ training courses for Libyan Coastguard personnel. Two sea rescue-training courses on board the ship Diciotti and in the Italian military base in Taranto have already been completed, attended by some 160 members of the Libyan Coastguard. Our Italian Relief Corps is currently preparing a third course.
It is clear that these initiatives are just a drop in the ocean of the atrocities and indignities to which our era bears witness, but we persevere in our attempts to relieve at least something of this terrible human suffering. Somewhere a family, a child, or a mother will perhaps be able to smile again, because of our efforts. This is what inspires our 80,000 volunteers.
Another aspect of our commitment is that of assistance and integration for migrants and refugees. In Germany alone, the Order of Malta can count on the tireless efforts of 5,000 volunteers and 3,000 staff who work in in this sector, active in some 100 facilities countrywide. With their 25 years of experience, our German volunteers have developed comprehensive social integration courses that have been very effective. These initiatives were recently illustrated in an in-depth report on migration by our German Relief Service, Malteser Hilfsdienst, which offered a cognitive tool based on scientific and numerical data rather than on emotional, non-scientific responses. A recent important recognition for the Order of Malta’s work in Germany was the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Sovereign Order of Malta, formalised with the official visit to Rome by the German Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, in November.
The commitment of our volunteers does not recognise walls or geographic distances. Medical teams are deployed in the main theatres of war in the Middle East to cope with the devastating effects of the conflict in Syria. In Turkey, a hospital on the Syrian border guarantees immediate access to healthcare for displaced people fleeing from the atrocities. Our international relief agency, Malteser International, also supports projects for combating school dropouts among refugee minors, enabling them to access primary education. In Iraq, it runs mobile clinics which are able to reach refugee camps and to give first-aid to the injured.
In Lebanon, our eleven medical centres and our four mobile clinics provide daily health and social support to both Syrian refugees and the local population. The aim of our humanitarian interventions is not only to help the victims of tragedies and wars but also to support the host communities, which are often overwhelmed and impoverished. Our commitment was recently acknowledged by the President of Lebanon, Michel Naim Aoun, who last October received the visit of a delegation I led, during which he stressed the importance of our medical and humanitarian projects in his country.
Through our diplomatic network, which includes our missions to United Nations agencies, our Order is active in the United Nations Global Compact for Migrants and Refugees. It is the first inter-governmental agreement on this topic and is currently being set up under the aegis of the UN General Assembly. The Compact proposals will be adopted at the forthcoming international conference on migration before the end of this year, 2018. Another issue in the diplomatic sphere on which our efforts are focussed is that of the special role played by faith-based institutions in the theatres of war, in rescuing and assisting affected communities. Following the results of the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit we continue our efforts at recognition of these important works undertaken by religious organisations and institutions.
The range of action of our assistance and reception facilities also extends to Africa, and in particular Uganda, where the number of refugees from neighbouring South Sudan has exceeded a million. Present in the area for over 20 years, Malteser International is engaged in these countries in the fight against epidemics and food insecurity. The drought is worsening the living conditions of communities in North Kenya, and Malteser International is supporting a medical centre which distributes food to undernourished children and to some 2,500 families. In 2017, our centre in South Africa, which provides medical and social assistance to HIV patients and their families and runs an orphanage for children whose parents have died from the disease, celebrated its 25th anniversary. For the occasion, the Grand Hospitaller Dominique de La Rochefoucauld-Montbel visited last October and spoke of the Order’s long-term commitment to aid those in need. Another example of this involvement is at the Central Hospital of the Order of Malta (CHOM) in Dakar, Senegal, which in 2017 celebrated fifty years of aid and support.
In the recent visit the Grand Hospitaller paid to Moscow, aid in the Middle East and on the African continent was also on the agenda of the discussions with the Russian authorities. The 25 years of diplomatic relations between the Sovereign Order and the Russian Federation were recalled in a collaborative art exhibition in Rome and the display of forty splendid icons.
A few months ago, the destructive path of hurricane Harvey in the United States triggered landslides and destroyed the Texas coastal area, causing immense damage. The Order of Malta’s three American Associations coordinated rescue operations to bring aid to the victims. Following Hurricane Irma, which struck the island of Cuba, collaboration between the local authorities and Caritas-Cuba brought over 100 tonnes of food and medicines for distribution to the most stricken regions of the island.
And in Italy, after the earthquakes that struck the central regions, our volunteers intervened and still continue to meet the needs of the affected communities.
I want here to recall the encyclical letter Laudato si’, in which Pope Francis says: “I urgently appeal for a renewal of the dialogue on how we are shaping the future of our planet.” He exhorts us to consider the ethical and social aspects and impacts of the new paradigm of development and progress in the short, medium and long term. Our workers are well aware of the violent effects of climate change, and for this reason many programmes concentrate on prevention and preparedness of disasters such as drought, floods and cyclones. In Central America, our Associations and our Embassies continue to develop important health projects. It is impossible to list all the praiseworthy initiatives, so I will just cite here the medical mission in which 75 specialised doctors, supported by our Cuban and Dominican Associations, visited over a thousand patients in an impoverished area of the Dominican Republic in 2017. This is not a random project: for over 15 years, our Cuban Association, with headquarters in Miami, has been organising these missions, offering not only medical consultations but also distributing large amounts of free medicines. During Holy Week, our Association and Embassy in El Salvador, together with the Fondacion Barraquer of Barcelona, organised a medical campaign to operate hundreds disadvantaged patients with cataracts, whose conditions were risking blindness. And in Costa Rica, following the Cooperation Agreement we signed last July with the government, we undertake to develop and diversify our social, humanitarian and healthcare cooperation, focussing particularly on the areas of health, food security and disaster risk reduction.
In Timor-Leste, one of the poorest countries in south Asia, through our Embassy the Order of Malta has recently opened a new primary healthcare centre, with particular focus on women and children. In a country in which one child out of six does not reach the end of their first year of life, killed by curable diseases and malnutrition, the polyclinic is a reference point to improve lives in the local communities. In Myanmar – still on the Asian continent – we have been present for over 15 years, assisting displaced people in the state of Rakhine, an important support for the many refugees who lead lives of desperation, as Pope Francis recalled when he visited the area recently. We have also signed a Cooperation Agreement for healthcare and medical assistance with the Indian Ocean Commission.
To demonstrate the Order of Malta’s growing commitment on the Asian continent, this year in Singapore we organised our first summer camp for young disabled in this area, attended by young people from Australia, Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong and Singapore. Besides the national camps we run in many countries, we also run our annual international summer camp for young disabled. The Order has been organising this event for over 30 years, each year in a different European country. This summer it was held in Austria in July. I have a very positive and joyful memory of that event, which I shared with the Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen on his official visit last November to the Magistral Villa.
For 90 years, the foremost commitments of the Ordre de Malte France have been the fight against social exclusion, the support for the homeless in the urban outskirts, assistance to the disabled and the contribution to research for Hansen’s disease. As well as activities in France, it is present in West Africa, running numerous hospitals and clinics, and in south-east Asia, with projects in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. Also in Palestine, our French Association provides an indispensable maternity service at the Holy Family Hospital, Bethlehem, where 4,000 babies were born in 2017. The facility, located a few hundred metres from the Church of the Nativity, also offers the region’s only neonatal intensive care unit.
Because of the range and variety of the projects we run in Europe, and the many partnerships and cooperative activities with States and organisations involved, it is impossible to refer to all of them here. But I wish to emphasise how gratified we are with the quality of the cooperation experienced with the respective countries.
The year that has just ended has been a complex one in the life of the Order. We have initiated a process of reform of our Constitutional Charter which requires time and commitment. As I indicated to Pope Francis during the audience he granted me last June, the process aims at being as inclusive as possible and its pillars are the reinforcement of our spirituality and the strengthening of our governance to keep pace with the times and to better face the current humanitarian challenges. A specific seminar on this topic will be held next month here in Rome. At the start of May, a Council Complete of State will be convened to elect the new Grand Master, or Lieutenant. This will take place before our traditional international pilgrimage to Lourdes.
Before concluding I wish to remember with appreciation Guillermo León Escobar, distinguished Ambassador of Colombia, who died recently. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.
Dear Ambassadors, the Order of Malta’s humanitarian work is wide-ranging and comprehensive and would not be as effective as it is without the diplomatic actions of our Ambassadors and your invaluable input. On the eve of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I wish to thank you for the contribution you give to promoting the Sovereign Order of Malta’s humanitarian commitment.
I extend my warmest wishes to you and to your families for a serene 2018, in the hope that this year will bring peace and blessings to humanity and that it can heal the wounds of all those who live with pain.