As need for aid grows in Holy Land, order expands in Malta

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Archbishop Charles J Scicluna, Archbishop of Malta, presided over the annual investiture of knights and dames of the Lieutenancy of Malta of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem at St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta on Nov. 18. (Courtesy photo)

VALLETTA — In a solemn ceremony held at St. John’s Co-Cathedral, Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna, Archbishop of Malta, presided over the annual investiture of knights and dames of the Lieutenancy of Malta of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem Nov. 18.

In the presence of foreign dignitaries and guests, 16 new candidates were initiated into the order. Notably, this investiture marked a historic moment as three candidates from Sardinia, Italy, were invested in Malta for the first time, strengthening the bonds of the ancient order.

With 12 candidates being prepared for reception next year, Roberto Buontempo, Ambassador-Designate to Hungary and Lieutenant of the Lieutenancy of Malta, is enthusiastic about the order’s growth. “It is a very positive time for our Lieutenancy,” Buontempo told Our Sunday Visitor.

Growth in the order’s membership in Malta will undoubtedly impact the order’s philanthropic mission: to support Christians in the Holy Land.

Newly invested dames of the Lieutenancy of Malta of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in St. John Co-Cathedral in Valletta on Nov. .

The impact of the Hamas-Israel war

“The current scenario erased much of what was achieved in past years,” Buontempo said. Sharing distressing examples of the conflict’s toll, Buontempo recounted the destruction of the Greek Orthodox Cultural Centre in Jerusalem, which housed thousands of people before being razed to the ground.

Buontempo highlighted the extensive work undertaken by the Order in the Holy Land. Emphasizing the order’s role in sustaining parishes, schools, hospitals, and various humanitarian programs, he lamented the disruption caused by the ongoing conflict, which brought these vital initiatives to a standstill, leaving the Christian community in Gaza in a dire situation.

“Hamas ideology is to be condemned of course, but not all the people of Gaza are Hamas,” Buontempo lamented. “The innocent suffer the most, always.”

Despite these hardships, he highlighted a glimmer of hope as 700 people have found refuge in a Catholic parish in Gaza, where the order provides essential support, including food, clean water, mattresses and limited electricity. The order has launched a humanitarian fund to be distributed by the Latin Patriarchate to provide more assistance.

Aiding Christians in the Holy Land

Christians are a very small minority in the Holy Land. “Before the war, they were already suffering this imbalance, but at least they used to live and work in their homeland,” Buontempo said. Many Christians have since had their work permits revoked. The permits are required to work in occupied territory so they now find themselves without jobs to feed their families. “Many lost their homes; many lost everything,” Buontempo said. “The situation is extremely desperate.”

Addressing the impact of the conflict on the region’s economy, Buontempo lamented the halt of pilgrimages that brought much-needed funding to the Holy Land. With thousands of daily visitors contributing to the livelihoods of Christians, Muslims and Jews alike, the indefinite suspension of these pilgrimages poses a significant challenge to economic recovery.

Support of the Church in Malta

Members of the order have had a presence in Malta since the 19th century, though the lieutenancy was not officially established until 1996. The Lieutenancy of Malta now comprises 113 members, including knights, dames, clerics and even a cardinal.

St. John Co-Cathedral was built by the Order of St John between 1573-1578. It is home to the largest painted canvas by Caravaggio, ‘The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist,’ the only known painting signed by the artist.

The order plays a pivotal role for Buontempo, not only in illuminating the needs in the Holy Land but also in shaping exemplary Christian lives closer to home. “The Order helps to form its members and to a certain extent, their immediate families, to live an exemplary Christian life and to also help their local churches,” Buontempo said. 

The Lieutenancy actively engages in community activities, supporting local churches across Malta and Gozo. This year marked a significant milestone with the inauguration of the Gozo Delegation, demonstrating the expansion of the order’s influence and outreach.

“Malta is a small reality,” said Buontempo, “but with a very big heart!”

Our Sunday Visitor Staff

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