State Funeral of Fra’Matthew Festing, 79th Grand Master of the Sovereign Order of Malta
Valletta, 3 December 2021
A mighty clap of thunder heralded the arrival of the coffin of Fra’ Matthew Festing, 79th Grand Master of the Sovereign Order of Malta as it reached the massive doors of St John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta, Malta. The organ echoed the sound as 250 mourners from around the world rose as one and stood to attention. The casket, draped in the flag of the Order, was carried the length of the nave aloft the shoulders of eight bearers, all knights, and accompanied by a solemn procession of clergy, civic dignatories, senior office bearers of the Order, the Lieutenant of the Grand Master, Fra’ Marco Luzzago, and the celebrants – Cardinal Silvano Tomasi , Special Delegate of Pope Francis to the Order, Archbishop of Valletta, Charles Scicluna and the Prelate of the Order Msgr. Jean Laffitte. Members of the Order filled the church and bowed their heads in respect for their former Grand Master.
The service, which lasted over one and a half hours, was a fitting response for a leader who had spent his seventy-one years looking after others and who was much loved as well as honoured.
In his homily, Cardinal Tomasi paid tribute to Fra’Matthew’s dedication to the Order and to its mission to care for the poor and the sick, a mission he had followed all his adult life.
At the end of the Mass, the remains of the 79th Grand Master were taken to the crypt where he was interred in a private ceremony attended by his family. He now lies in the crypt Chapel of the Holy Cross, where eleven Grand Masters of the Order already lie. The crypt was created during the construction of the church in the late sixteenth century. It contains the remains of the first eleven Grand Masters, 1522 to 1623. Amongst them are Philippe Villiers de L’Isle Adam, Grand Master from 1521-1534, who brought the Order to Malta in 1530, Jean de La Valette (1557-1568), the hero of the Great Siege (1565) and who was also responsible for the building of Valletta and Jean L’Evesque de La Cassière (1572-1581) who in 1572 commissioned the church.
Fr Imre Kozma, who met Fra’ Matthew on many occasions on his visits to Hungary and the Order’s works in Hungary, said: ‘To speak well of Fra’Matthew Festing is not just a task, but a welcome duty. All his life he strove to employ his phenomenal abilities in the service of others. He made everyone aware of his own standpoint and his key values. He moved on calm, clear heights, above petty interests.’
Fra’Matthew Festing, born 30 November 1949 in Northumberland, died in Malta on 12 November and was laid to rest today, 3 December.