6 February 2024 | Message

MESSAGE FROM THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS TO PARTICIPANTS IN THE GENERAL CHAPTER OF THE ORDER OF MALTA

Vatican

Please note that this document is an unofficial translation and is provided for
reference only.

Dear brothers and sisters!
To all of you, gathered in the General Chapter of the Gerosolomite Order of Saint
John, I address my cordial greeting.
First of all, I would like to listen to the Gospel with you: “When the Son of man
comes in his glory, […] he will say to those on his right hand: ‘Come, you
blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you. since the creation of
the world, because I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you
gave me drink, I was a stranger and you took me in, naked and you clothed me,
sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you you have come to see me”.
Then the righteous will answer him: “Lord, when did we see you hungry and
feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When have we ever seen you a
stranger and welcomed you, or naked and dressed you? When have we ever
seen you sick or in prison and come to visit you?”. And the king will answer
them: Truly I tell you, whatever you did to one of the least of these my brothers,
you did it to me”” (25:31-40).
These words sum up the millennial mission of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller
Order of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta. They reveal what Jesus
proclaimed and above all lived: that love of God requires love of neighbor. He
identifies himself with the poor and needy, with the little ones of this world. He
made himself the smallest, and conforming oneself to Jesus in relating to needy
neighbors goes beyond philanthropy and charity and becomes a testimony of his
closeness, of his love.
In this Gospel parable, love takes the form of giving food and drink; it is the
action of dressing and welcoming; it is the time to go and visit; it is the attitude
of hospitality. How much time do we dedicate to this love, which is service (cfGv
13,4-5)? To take care of the thirst, nudity, illnesses and imprisonments of those
around us? Perhaps too little, because intent on our things, our work, our
interests. The love of one who makes himself a servant, on the other hand, so
humble, hidden, small and silent, is the seed from which the biggest tree sprouts
and grows and on which everyone wishes to dwell (cf.Mt 13:32): the tree of
eternal life (cfGen 2,9).

Therefore, Jesus makes us understand clearly that, at the end of our life, we will
be judged on how much we have concretely loved Him, meeting and loving
others. He reveals to us that every gesture of attention towards the sick, the
hungry, the thirsty, the naked and so on is an act of love towards Him; and
likewise what we refuse to do to our neighbor, we deny to Himself.
To build a more just world, there is no other way than that of the Gospel; and we
are called to begin with us, practicing charity where we live.
In the gesture of washing the feet, Jesus shows us that the meaning of being
Master and Lord is service to others (cfGv 13:12-16; 18.37). Jesus reigns in
humility: from a manger and from a cross. With his words, his life and his death,
the Master shows us that the works of mercy open the doors of the eternal
Kingdom. And in your Order you try to live this every day; this is a cause of
great joy for me!
Of great merit is your work of consoling the afflicted, both in their spiritual and
material needs.
Forgive the offenses! I sincerely ask you to come to sincere mutual forgiveness,
to reconciliation, after moments of tension and difficulty that you have
experienced in the recent past. May the charity of forgiveness be the lifestyle
that distinguishes you. Knowing how to forgive is an indication of freedom, of the
generosity of the heart, of the capacity for unconditional love; it is the
expression of a merciful heart; it translates into lived fraternity, into expressed
cordiality, into reciprocity of feelings. And by this they will recognize that you are
disciples of the Lord Jesus (cfGv 13,35).
This spirit and this way of working closely connects you to Blessed Gerard and to
the first brothers who joined him, to serve pilgrims from the Holy Land in the
Hospital of Jerusalem.
The worldly mentality, selfish and consumerist today, is a challenge which, with
your exemplary life and your works of mercy, you are called to face, because it is
in stark contrast to the Gospel. You do this, for example, by caring for the sick
and visiting prisoners. I know that in many parts of the world you members and
your Volunteers dedicate yourselves to these works. Accompany also those who
are approaching the moment of death, so delicate, in the transition from this
earth to eternal life.
Today the ancient struggles to defend faith and Christianity have moved to a
broader and more universal front, that of growth in faith and truth, which are
the basis of your humanitarian action. In fact, the first part of your motto is the
protection of faith. Without faith your works would be just philanthropy. Being
disciples of Jesus makes you witnesses of his Resurrection and propagators of
his Kingdom on earth. This naturally requires ongoing formation, for you
Professed and also for you members of the Second and Third Class, from which I
hope and pray that many vocations to religious consecration will arise in the
service of “our Lord’s poor”. And this expression, which I like very much, “poor
of Our Lord”, recalls the other part of your motto, the service of the poor,
devotion to the poor and the sick. Theprotection of faith and the service of the
poor they are inseparable for you.
I appreciate the fact that you are making an effort to implement this
combination today, as for example in Lampedusa, with the migrants who have
fled their countries; as in Ukraine and neighboring countries, with those fleeing
the war; and so in many other places and for many other needs.
Thank you! Thanks for all this. Thank you because you make yourselves
available to your brothers and sisters in need, pushing you to the existential
peripheries where you can meet and serve Christ.
A few years have passed since the Order needed me to accompany it on a path
that was at times arduous, but which was necessary to arrive with renewed love
to serve the “poor gentlemen and sick gentlemen”. The Church, which is Mother,
could not fail to take care of you, of your Order, in full harmony with your life
and your historical tradition. Over the course of its almost thousand years of
history, the Order of Malta has always demonstrated its fidelity to Christ, to his
Church and to his Vicar on earth, the Pope. For this reason, as I recalled in the
Decree of 3 September last, many my predecessors intervened to accompany
delicate transitional moments in his life.
The new Constitutional Charter and the new Melitense Code are the fruit of a
long journey, dictated by meetings and dialogues between the various
components of the Order and my Special Delegate. Although not without
opposition, we finally came to the drafting of these two documents, which are
fundamental for your personal life and for the good of the many and meritorious
works you have on every continent. The whole Order is now called to reflect
carefully and scrupulously on the renewal, contained in the Constitutional
Charter and in the Melitensi Code, in the wake of tradition. This will be the
specific task for the new government that will be elected.
All the members of the First, Second and Third Class, together with the
Volunteers, whose work is essential, are called to receive and implement the
new Constitutional Charter and the Melitensi Code, so that a spiritual and of
activity in charity, thus strengthening its unity.
May the First Class, made up of the Knights of Justice, who profess the three
evangelical counsels, giving their lives fully to Christ and His Church, fervently
resume religious life in its entirety, faithfully observing the solemn vows made to
God, living in fraternal communion. Community life is a sign of this communion.
The Second Class is renewed in the interiorization and concrete implementation
of the promise of obedience which binds it to the Order.

May the Third Class be available, in a testimony of life, in close collaboration with
the works of the Order.
All members of the Order and Volunteers are called to communion. Our Lord
asks for it. In his “testament”, which is reported to us in the Gospel of John, the
Master prayed for the unity of histo be one, “so that the world may believe” (Gv
17.21). And you are called to this. Firmly consolidate your unity, otherwise you
will not be credible in your works. Conflicts and contrasts damage your mission.
Lust for power and other worldly attachments distance us from Christ, they are
temptations to be rejected. Let us remember the “rich young man” of the
Gospel, who, although moved by good intentions, failed to follow Jesus because
he was attached to his things and his interests.
The unity of all the members of the Order is necessary for the fulfillment of the
mission proper to it. The Evil One knows this well, and as always tries to create
division. We are careful not to compromise with the tempter, even
unintentionally. He often deceives under the guise of good, and what may
appear to be for the glory of God may turn out to be our vain glory.
All the structures of the Order are to be valued and enriched by the presence of
members of the various Classes, well trained and animated by a spirit of service.
And the works of the Order, born from the evangelical intuition of Blessed
Gerard, are not at the service of the members of the Order, but always to serve
the “Poor of Our Lord”.
Sovereignty itself, a well-known and unique characteristic that you enjoy as a
religious order, is and must be functional in the service of the works of mercy
you carry out. We need to be vigilant lest it be distorted by the worldly
mentality. May your diplomatic missions also be instruments for the exercise of
charity and solidarity.
The gratuitousness and fervor with which you embraced the Johannine ideal is
well represented by the octagonal cross you wear: this reminds you of the
evangelical Beatitudes, with the eight points of the Maltese cross. Be proud and
worthy of it, remembering who, on the cross, gave his life for our salvation.
I would like to sincerely thank my Special Delegate and his closest collaborators
for all the work carried out with patience and seriousness, and carried out for so
long until reaching a result that responded to the needs of the Order itself.
I wish you all fruitful work in this General Chapter, which will see the birth of a
Government called to lead the Order along the path traced by the Provisional
Government which I have composed, and to which I express my deep gratitude
for the way it has wisely conducted the Order in these months.
I invoke the heavenly protection of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Fileremo, of St.
John the Baptist, of Blessed Gerard and of all the saints and blesseds of the
Order so that they may accompany you, together with St. Michael the Archangel,
on the journey that you are called to undertake in fidelity to the charism
foundational. And my Apostolic Blessing reaches you all, which I cordially impart
to all the Members and Volunteers, as well as to all the Clients and Organizations
of the Order.

From the Vatican, 17 January 2023, memorial of Saint Anthony the Abbot.