28 March 2023, The Tablet

Order of Malta must find 'poorest of the poor' says Grand Hospitaller

Fra’ Alessandro de Franciscis addressed the order's International Hospitaller Conference in London on 24-26 March.

Order of Malta must find 'poorest of the poor' says Grand Hospitaller

An Order of Malta volunteer in Hungary at a reception centre for refugees from Ukraine in March 2022.

The Order of Malta’s head of global projects urged its members not to let old habits get in the way of best practice, as they met for the twenty-ninth International Hospitaller Conference in London on 24-26 March.

In an opening address to the conference, the Grand Hospitaller, Fra’ Alessandro de Franciscis, who is responsible for the coordination of aid operations around the world, told attendees that they must “broaden the militancy of the Order of Malta in serving the poor”.

Some 80 representatives of the order’s international projects met to discuss best practice, focusing on leadership in crisis situations and the importance of safeguarding.

They also heard lectures on Covid-19 vaccinations and epidemiology, and dedicated a session to the psychosocial support its members have been providing to refugees in Ukraine.

Dr de Franciscis told The Tablet that the order’s responsibility was “to find the poorest of the poor” in each time and place, and that its presence in many communities made its members “close witnesses to Christian persecution”, particularly in the Holy Land.

Citing the examples of St Teresa of Calcutta, St Vincent de Paul and Blessed Gerard, the eleventh-century founder of the order, he said that it must be ready to adapt its work to the conditions of the poor in different circumstances.

“The worst phrase to hear is ‘Things have always been done this way’,” he said.

Dr de Franciscis, who was elected Grand Hospitaller in January this year, is a clinical paediatrician with qualifications in epidemiology and theology. Born and educated in Naples, he has been the chief doctor in Lourdes since 2009, the first non-French appointment to the role.

At the start of March he visited the order’s projects in Ukraine, which have expanded to include provision of social and psychological support, particularly for children, and medical assistance which now includes a prosthetics clinic in Lviv.

The conference heard that the “complementarity and synergy” between its associations in Eastern Europe “have led to a significant increase in the efficiency of project implementation and in the number of volunteers who are involved”.

Malteser International, the Order of Malta’s international aid agency, held its general assembly in the course of the conference, electing a new board with Raphael Vermeir, a member of the British association of the order, as its president.

Mr Vermeir said the board’s priorities were “to make sure that our work is trusted, understood, and well-coordinated…by placing a premium on transparency, trust, and responsibility to our Lords the poor and the sick”.

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