St John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta
16th April 2015
Your Excellency Madame President,
Most Eminent Highness, Your Excellencies, members of the Order,
The Maltese are very familiar with four words in Latin that represent the ethos of the Order, which, we Maltese note with pride, takes its name from our country- The four words are: Tuitio Fidei; Obsequium Pauperum, the defence of the faith, respect, or rather, veneration of the poor. I would like to share a few short reflections on what these four words mean to us today.
Tuitio Fidei: Defending the faith, meant that the Order especially in Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta had to take up arms. But what does this mean today? It means that the Order, like all Christians, has to defend the faith first of all by witness. The Gospel today talks about the witness of Jesus, but it also talks about the witness of people who believe in Jesus. In the first reading, the Apostles are called to witness to the name of Jesus. For their fidelity to Jesus, they have to pay a very hefty price. As we know, another word for testimony or witness comes from Greek, and it is martyrium.
I would like to add two other words in Latin as a complement to Tuitio Fidei – Defensio Christianorum, the defence of Christians who are being persecuted. And how do we do this? By ensuring their religious freedom wherever they are and in whatever way we can. In order to defend the faith, we need to assure religious freedom to everybody, even to non-Christians because the religious freedom of everybody is the best guarantee of the freedom of Christians. We do not want freedom for ourselves only. We know and we realise that we need to share freedom, the freedom to adore God. We need to respect the freedom of conscience of all and sundry.
I would like to reiterate what Pope Francis said on the 6th of April of this year (2015), Easter Monday, when he asked the International Community not to turn a blind eye to the plight of Christians being persecuted because they are Christians. And so yes, we need to engage in an inter-religious dialogue. As His Eminent Highness said yesterday, it would be an extraordinary way to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the Great Siege if we had to promote religious dialogue between Christianity and Islam. But we also need to do that by saying: ‘Stop persecuting our brothers and sisters! Stop letting Christian blood into the Mediterranean. Stop murdering innocent Copts and Iraqi Christians. Stop using the name of Islam to terrorize the innocent’.
Obsequium Pauperum. Veneration of the Poor. I always find these two words not only admirable but also very difficult to practice, because we’re not talking about helping the poor, but we’re talking about the veneration and respect to the poor. In the days of the Order in Malta, the Sacra Infermeria, where the malades, the poor and the sick, were treated like princes, was a great witness to this obsequium pauperum in Europe and beyond. Today, we have to commend the Order of Malta for being such an extraordinary Christian presence of solidarity and of true witness to the love of Christ in the world of nursing and care for the sick.
To these extraordinary words Obsequium Pauperum, I would like to add two words today: Medela Sauciorum, the balm to the wounds of the sick. And how do we do that? We do that because we know that we need to fight new wounds like those caused by addiction, for example. And I would like to commend the Government of Malta for its constant commitment to fight addiction. But I would like to commend also the Order of Malta for being such a wonderful and fresh presence in the medical field. Today, the 16th of April, we commemorate Saint Bernadette Soubirous, who reminds us of Lourdes and the beautiful witness to charity which the Order of Malta gives on the occasion of its pilgrimage at the beginning of May every year, in that holy place, that haven for the malades.
Do not turn a blind eye to the plight of refugees in the Mediterranean! Do not turn a blind eye to the persecuted peoples of the Mediterranean! The image, in today’s newspaper, of that toddler drowned on the coasts of our Mare Nostrum, is not only sad and tragic. It is also an urgent call to action, a reminder of our great responsibility. What are we going to do? We cannot simply stand and watch.
And so may the Lord bless us and fill us with the resolve to defend our faith as we strive for full religious freedom. But let us also practice our faith in the excercise of true solidarity and compassion.
✝ Charles J. SciclunaArchbishop of Malta
Photo: Photocity, Valletta.