Frequently asked questions

1) What is the Sovereign Order of Malta?

Founded in the 11th century in Jerusalem, the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta is a lay religious order of the Catholic Church and a sovereign subject of international law. Faithful to its centuries old mission of service to the vulnerable and the sick, it runs medical, social and humanitarian projects in 120 countries.

The Sovereign Order of Malta’s mission is summed up in its motto “Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum”: nurturing, witnessing and protecting the faith (tuitio fidei) and serving the poor and the sick (obsequium pauperum).

2) What do we mean by saying that it is a religious order?

The Order was born as a monastic community inspired by St. John the Baptist. This community, which was created by Amalfitan Merchants around 1050, ran a hospice providing care and shelter for pilgrims to the Holy Land. In 1113 it received formal acknowledgement as a religious Order from Pope Paschal II. Before the loss of the island of Malta (1798) most of the knights were religious, having taken the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Today, although some members of the Order are professed knights (having taken the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience), others have pronounced only the promise of obedience. Most of the Order’s 13,500 knights and dames are lay members. Although they have not pronounced any religious vow, they are all devoted to the exercise of Christian virtue and charity, and committed to developing their spirituality within the Church and to expending their energies in serving the Faith and assisting others.

3) Is it a military order?

The Order had to become military to protect the pilgrims and the sick and to defend the Christian territories in the Holy Land. The Order ceased to carry out this function when it lost Malta (1798). Today the Order preserves only the military traditions.

4) Is it a chivalrous order?

Traditionally Knights of the Order belonged to chivalrous and noble families of the Christian world. The Order is still a chivalrous order today as it has maintained the values of chivalry and nobility. Although the majority of its members no longer come from ancient noble families, they are admitted because of manifest merits towards the Church and the Order of Malta.

5) What are the works of the Order?

The Order of Malta works in the field of medical and social care and humanitarian aid, in over 120 countries, supported by the diplomatic relations it currently has with 107 nations. The Order also runs hospitals, medical centres, day hospitals, nursing homes for the elderly and the disabled, and special centres for the terminally ill. In many countries the Order’s volunteer corps provide first aid, social services, emergency and humanitarian interventions.

Malteser International, the Order’s worldwide relief agency, works in the front line in natural disasters and armed conflicts.

The Order is also engaged in the cultural field.

The Australian Association of the Order is mostly involved in Palliative Care, support for the homeless, a Drug and Alcohol Detoxification Unit, disaster relief as well as medical and first aid services in Timor Leste and Papua New Guinea. Please see Our Projects for more details.

6) How is the Order Governed?

The government of the Sovereign Order of Malta has a similar structure to state governments. However, it also includes specific features associated with its nature as a religious lay order, as well as particular terminology evolved from nine centuries of history.
The head of the Order is the Grand Master who governs both as sovereign and as religious superior, and is assisted by the Sovereign Council, which he chairs.

Since April 29, 2017 the Head of the Order is the Lieutenant of the Grand Master, Fra’ Giacomo Dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto, elected for a term of one year. He holds all the same powers as the Grand Master.
The Sovereign Council is elected for a term of five years and is made up of the Grand Commander (the religious superior of the Order’s religious members);
Grand Chancellor (Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister of the Interior); Grand Hospitaller (Minister for Health and International Cooperation); Receiver of the Common Treasure (Minister for Finance), together with six other members, all elected by the Chapter General.
The life and activities of the Order of Malta are governed by its Constitution and its Code.

7) What is the international organisation of the Order?

Today, the Order is present with its Institutions in 54 countries. It has 6 Grand Priories, 6 Subpriories and 47 National Associations.

8) How many members does the Order have?

The Order is made up of more than 13,500 Knights and Dames.

9) Where have the main humanitarian missions been carried out in recent years?

The most significant aid projects have been carried out in Kosovo and Macedonia, India, in Southeast Asia after the Tsunami, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mexico, Congo, Sudan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Georgia and Haiti.

10) How does one become a member of the Order?

One can become a member of the Order of Malta only by invitation. Only persons of undoubted Catholic morality and practice, who have acquired merit with regard to the Sovereign Order, its institutions and its works are eligible for admission. The relevant Grand Priory or National Association is responsible for proposals of admission. Please see Members of the Order for further details.

11) How does one become a volunteer?

Volunteers are most welcome, for national and international projects. Please see Volunteer for further details on how to become involved in the works of the Australian Association.

12) How are the Order’s diplomatic activities conducted?

The Sovereign Order of Malta is a subject of international law that exercises functions of sovereignty, recognised as such by more than 100 States and by the European Union, with which it exchanges ambassadors.

It has permanent observer missions at the United Nations (New York, Geneva, Paris, Vienna, Rome, Nairobi, Bangkok), and with the principal international organisations. Diplomatic relations allow the Order of Malta to intervene with timely and effective humanitarian aid in the event of natural disaster or armed conflict.

Due to its status as a neutral, apolitical and independent institution, and its humanitarian role, the Sovereign Order of Malta is able to intervene on an international level as a mediator in disputes.

13) How are the Order’s activities financed?

Activities are funded essentially by its members, their volunteering and monetary contributions. Internationally, resources for hospitals and medical activities usually come from agreements stipulated with the national health and social systems. The same is true for emergency services. In developing countries, activities are often backed by grants from governments, the European Commission or other international organisations. Many projects can only be realised through the help of public and corporate donations and sponsorships.

What is unique to the Order however is that overheads are absolutely minimal due to its members’ and volunteers’ active involvement which results in more funds being applied directly where it is needed.