Friday, February 08, 2008

Malta Mourns its Master

The 78th Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, Fra Andrew Bertie, died late last night in a Roman hospital. He was 78.
Bertie was elected to lead the order in a secret conclave in 1988. He is credited with modernizing the group's humanitarian programs, increasing membership and extending its reach in troubled and far-flung regions, the statement said.

Officially known as the Sovereign Military Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, the group was founded with a pilgrims' hospice in 11th century Jerusalem and has the status of an independent state. It maintains diplomatic relations with 100 nations, increased from 49 at the start of Bertie's tenure.

The Knights of Malta has 12,500 members and operates in 120 countries, providing medical and social services, particularly in war zones and impoverished areas.

The grand commander of the order, Fra Giacomo della Torre, was sworn in as interim head of the group until a new grand master is elected, the statement said.

Elected for life, the grand master carries the title of prince and the position is equal in rank to a cardinal. The grand master must have 200 years of nobility on both parents' sides and must have followed vows of poverty, obedience and chastity.
Lying in state begins today at the order's headquarters on the Aventine Hill.

PHOTO: Sovereign Military Order of Malta