Category Archives: Vatican

900th anniversary exhibition on the Sovereign Military Order of Malta

Exhibition_Order_of_St_John

gozonews.com | Jun 6, 2013

The Minister for Education, Evarist Bartolo, will on Friday morning, be officially inaugurating the exhibition ‘TUITIO FIDEI ET OBSEQUIUM PAUPERUM – the Sovereign Military Order of Malta 1113-2013,’ that has been mounted by the National Library of Malta, under the auspices of Malta Libraries, to commemorate the 900th anniversary from the foundation of the Order of St John.

The exhibition, which will be opened at 10.00am, will showcase a number of manuscripts taken from the Order’s Archives, some of which date back to just under a thousand years. The exhibition will shed light on the three phases of the Order – the epoch prior to the Knights’ arrival on the Maltese Islands, their time here, and the period after their departure, coming up to the present day. Some items of clothing directly relating to the Order will also form part of the exhibition.

To commemorate this anniversary, the National Library of Malta will also be launching two new publications.

The first of these will be a booklet relating to the Archives of the Order, in both Maltese and English, which will provide information on the Archives from its origin to the present day. It should be noted that the greater part of this Archive is in fact preserved at the National Library.

The other publication, also in Maltese and English, will offer photographs and informational snippets about each of the 28 Grand Masters who ruled Malta between 1530 and 1798. This publication should prove useful to students of Maltese history, providing an introductory guide to these historical figures which will surely serve to whet the appetite for more detailed knowledge about the lives and achievements of our islands’ rulers.

These publications will also be available from the National Library.

The exhibition will be open to the public, free of charge, from Monday to Friday during the National Library’s opening hours, until the 2nd of August.

Popes and demons: Mysterious Vatican bank poses problem for new pontiff

The massive round tower, left, is the headquarters of the Institute for Works of Religion, the Vatican’s secretive bank.

GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images FilesThe massive round tower, left, is the headquarters of the Institute for Works of Religion, the Vatican’s secretive bank.
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National Post | Mar 8, 2013by Adrian Humphreys
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As the world waits for the Vatican’s conclave to select a new pope to lead 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, and the church’s sex abuse scandals dominate discourse on the incoming pontiff’s priorities, another decidedly worldly issue is also poised to take an immediate toll on the new Holy Father: money.

The public and private woes of the Vatican bank, long shrouded in secrets and whispers, might well prove to be just as challenging, if not as draining, as the lurid, faith-shaking damage of the clergy abuse scandal.

With a two-year probe by Italian authorities into money laundering, poor transparency, inadequate adherence to standards for guarding against criminal and terrorist financing, and questions over sudden changes in its leadership, the bank represents another crisis of morals, legalities and perception.

The importance of the Vatican bank in Pope Benedict XVI’s grand vision can be assumed from the urgency it held with the outgoing pontiff: among the last official acts before his shock retirement was overhauling financial leadership and church oversight.

On Feb. 15, Benedict XVI approved the appointment of Ernst von Freyberg as the new president of the supervisory board of the Institute for Works of Religion, the church agency widely known as the Vatican bank.

The appointment of the German lawyer and businessman came after assessing “a number of candidates of professional and moral excellence,” the Vatican said in a statement.

“The Holy Father has closely followed the entire selection process … and he has expressed his full consent to the choice made by the Commission of Cardinals.”

While the appointment drew immediate criticism over the involvement of Mr. von Freyberg’s Blohm+Voss, an industrial group, in manufacturing German warships, including during the Nazi era, it also raised eyebrows for its timing. Putting money under the baton of a German is not out of step with European policy these days, but for an institution already rife with conspiracy theories the sudden shuffle could not go unnoticed.

“[Benedict’s] decision to retire was so unprecedented, you would think that he would have other things on his mind than replacing the head of the Vatican bank,” said Carlo Calvi, son of Roberto Calvi, who was known as “God’s Banker” because of his close ties to the Vatican before his outlandish death more than 30 years ago.

Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg Files

Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg FilesThe city of Rome, in Italy, is seen beyond St. Peter’s Square from the roof of the Basilica in Vatican City.
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Ernst von Freyberg. The Canadian Press Files.

Ernst von Freyberg. The Canadian Press Files.

“However, I am more surprised by the sackings — the people who were let go — rather than the appointments,” he said.

Ettore Gotti Tedeschi was chairman of the Vatican bank until he was pushed out in May with a withering assessment of not being up for the job. He had been trying to get the Vatican onto the international banking “white list” of virtuous countries.

Then, on Feb. 22, Monsignor Ettore Balestrero, a key church official pushing for better regulation and controls on the Vatican bank, was suddenly transferred from Rome to Colombia.

That transfer followed the moving of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who was credited with turning a deficit for the Vatican into a large surplus through greater accountability and controls, from the Vatican to the United States.

One of the leaked documents in the “Vatileaks” scandal was a letter from Archbishop Vigano to Pope Benedict begging he remain in Rome to continue his financial crusade. The Pope was unmoved.

The transfers suggest change is not always welcome.

“Change under the new pope will be easier said than done because they make money on this, it is a source of income that has been used for a lot of purposes,” said Mr. Calvi. To address the problems, “They need, essentially, to do a very drastic reform that would almost certainly mean foregoing a considerable source of revenue.”

The Vatican bank has not always shown such virtuous strength, as Mr. Calvi knows better than most. Few outside the Vatican’s inner circle eye church finance as closely as Mr. Calvi, who now lives in Montreal.

Watching the Vatican bank has consumed Mr. Calvi’s adult life and the Calvi name almost consumed the Vatican bank.

His father was chairman of Banco Ambrosiano, an Italian Catholic bank closely linked to the Vatican.

Graham Hughes for National Post

Few outside the Vatican’s inner circle eye church finance as closely as Carlo Calvi, who now lives in Montreal. Graham Hughes for National Post
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The shadowy operations of Vatican finance forced its way into the public’s consciousness when Roberto Calvi was found dead, just as the scandalous operation of church finance was being revealed amid the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano, Italy’s largest private bank, with $1-billion missing.

Since then, his unsolved death, first declared a suicide, then reclassified as a murder, and the cast of powerful figures and secretive organizations linked to it — from the Mafia and the Masonic lodge P2 to the powerful conservative Catholic organization Opus Dei and the Vatican itself — make it one of modern history’s enduring mysteries, Europe’s equal to the Jimmy Hoffa disappearance.

The case was also said to be linked to landmark Cold War politics, with claims Banco Ambrosiano was used by those close to John Paul II, the Polish pope, to fund the anti-Communist Solidarity movement in Poland and by those close to U.S. president Ronald Reagan to fund the Contra rebels of Central America.

The raw puzzle and quirks of Mr. Calvi’s death compel conspiracy theories and befuddlement, with small details that seem to mean much, but with no answer to exactly what.

The banker’s body was found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge, his feet dangling in the River Thames in the heart of London, on June 18, 1982; he wore two pairs of underwear, had five bricks in his pockets, about $14,00-worth of three different currencies and the business card of a Mafia figure.

It was a death shouting in the symbolic language of Italy’s underworld.

Simon Dawson/Bloomberg Files

Blackfriars Bridge in London, U.K. Simon Dawson/Bloomberg Files
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“I am more of the idea that there are theatrical elements and not necessarily symbolic aspects to it,” said his son. “Hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars were involved — if that is not a motive for murder, I don’t know what is.”

After all, any Catholic cleric would know: Radix malorum est cupiditas, the Latin Biblical quotation meaning greed is the root of evil.

The very notion of a church bank speaks to the awkward interface between the spiritual and temporal, represented by the pope being both leader of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City state.

Unlike many Vatican institutions, the Vatican bank is not of antique origin, having been formed in 1942 by Pius XII, although it had older antecedents. Its purpose is to protect and administer the property and funds intended for the church’s works.

Unlike true national central banks, it does not set monetary policy or involve itself in currency maintenance, as the Vatican uses the euro. Also unlike most banks, its surplus or profit is supposed to go toward religion or charity.

As it is not a true central bank, and with the Vatican not a full member of the European Union, its relationship with strict regulation has been more nebulous and its ends of religion or charity have, likewise, not always been clear.

“One would be surprised at the acceptance of risky relationships and risky behaviour for an organization like the Vatican. But, objectively, I’ve seen it. It is hard to understand, but it is true,” said Mr. Calvi.

Courtesy Carlo Calvi

“God’s Banker” Roberto Calvi, whose body was found hanging from a London bridge in 1982, meets Paul VI in an undated photo. Courtesy Carlo Calvi
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“In many cases, they seem to have little judgment in terms of the arrangements they get themselves into.”

In the fallout of the Banco Ambrosiano scandal, though it claimed no wrongdoing, the Vatican bank paid $250-million to Ambrosiano’s creditors.

Since then, its regulatory framework has still not caught up to modern standards, especially in the post-9/11 world.

Tiziana Fabi/AFP/GettyImages Files

The former head of the Vatican bank, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, was forced to resign from his post on May 24, 2012 “for failing to carry out duties of primary importance,” the Holy See said in a statement. Tiziana Fabi/AFP/GettyImages Files
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In 2010, Rome magistrates froze ¤23-million ($31-million) the Vatican bank held in an Italian bank. The Vatican said its bank was merely transferring its own funds between its own accounts in Italy and Germany. The money was released in June 2011, but an investigation continues.

In July, a European anti-money laundering committee said the Vatican bank failed to meet all its standards on fighting money laundering, tax evasion and other financial crimes.

The report by Moneyval, a monitoring committee of the 47-nation Council of Europe, found the Vatican passed nine of 16 “key and core” aspects of its financial dealings. The head of the Vatican delegation to the Moneyval committee was Msgr. Balestrero.

Msgr. Balestrero said the report was a call for the Vatican to push forward with “efforts to marry moral commitments to technical excellence” to prove “the Holy See’s and Vatican City state’s desire to be a reliable partner in the international community.”

Seven months later, he was reassigned to South America.

“The Moneyval report was one of the rare bits of good news for the Vatican last year. Balestrero was the one who dealt with Moneyval and they send him to Colombia. That doesn’t sound like the way to reward someone,” said Mr. Calvi.

This week, the widely read Italian Catholic weekly Famiglia Cristiana, which is distributed free in Italian parishes on Sundays, carried an article calling for the bank to be closed on the grounds the pontificate should not have direct links to the world of finance.

It argued there are plenty of ethically minded commercial banks in Italy and elsewhere that could be trusted to manage the Holy See’s assets.

In January, René Bruelhart, the new director of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority, said the church was on the right track.

“Considering the particular nature of the Vatican City state, adequate measures have been adopted for vigilance, prevention, and fighting money laundering and financing terrorism,” he told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

How much further the Vatican bank will go and how quickly it can get there, under both the new chairman and a new pope, is being anxiously watched by the world’s financial community. And by Mr. Calvi.

Pier Paolo Cito / The Associated Press Files

Then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, left, now former Pope Benedict XVI, looks on as late Pope John Paul II celebrates Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in 2002. Pier Paolo Cito / The Associated Press Files
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National Post, with files from news services

Vatican: Pope to enjoy immunity from presecution for his role in child rape scandal coverups

Reuters | Feb 15, 2013

By Philip Pullella

Pope_Benedict_XVI-evilVATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Benedict’s decision to live in the Vatican after he resigns will provide him with security and privacy. It will also offer legal protection from any attempt to prosecute him in connection with sexual abuse cases around the world, Church sources and legal experts say.

“His continued presence in the Vatican is necessary, otherwise he might be defenseless. He wouldn’t have his immunity, his prerogatives, his security, if he is anywhere else,” said one Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It is absolutely necessary” that he stays in the Vatican, said the source, adding that Benedict should have a “dignified existence” in his remaining years.

Vatican sources said officials had three main considerations in deciding that Benedict should live in a convent in the Vatican after he resigns on February 28.

Vatican police, who already know the pope and his habits, will be able to guarantee his privacy and security and not have to entrust it to a foreign police force, which would be necessary if he moved to another country.

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“I see a big problem if he would go anywhere else. I’m thinking in terms of his personal security, his safety. We don’t have a secret service that can devote huge resources (like they do) to ex-presidents,” the official said.

Another consideration was that if the pope did move permanently to another country, living in seclusion in a monastery in his native Germany, for example, the location might become a place of pilgrimage.

POTENTIAL EXPOSURE

This could be complicated for the Church, particularly in the unlikely event that the next pope makes decisions that may displease conservatives, who could then go to Benedict’s place of residence to pay tribute to him.

“That would be very problematic,” another Vatican official said.

The final key consideration is the pope’s potential exposure to legal claims over the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandals.

In 2010, for example, Benedict was named as a defendant in a law suit alleging that he failed to take action as a cardinal in 1995 when he was allegedly told about a priest who had abused boys at a U.S. school for the deaf decades earlier. The lawyers withdrew the case last year and the Vatican said it was a major victory that proved the pope could not be held liable for the actions of abusive priests.

Benedict is currently not named specifically in any other case. The Vatican does not expect any more but is not ruling out the possibility.

“(If he lived anywhere else) then we might have those crazies who are filing lawsuits, or some magistrate might arrest him like other (former) heads of state have been for alleged acts while he was head of state,” one source said.

Another official said: “While this was not the main consideration, it certainly is a corollary, a natural result.”

After he resigns, Benedict will no longer be the sovereign monarch of the State of Vatican City, which is surrounded by Rome, but will retain Vatican citizenship and residency.

LATERAN PACTS

That would continue to provide him immunity under the provisions of the Lateran Pacts while he is in the Vatican and even if he makes jaunts into Italy as a Vatican citizen.

The 1929 Lateran Pacts between Italy and the Holy See, which established Vatican City as a sovereign state, said Vatican City would be “invariably and in every event considered as neutral and inviolable territory”.

There have been repeated calls for Benedict’s arrest over sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

When Benedict went to Britain in 2010, British author and atheist campaigner Richard Dawkins asked authorities to arrest the pope to face questions over the Church’s child abuse scandal.

Dawkins and the late British-American journalist Christopher Hitchens commissioned lawyers to explore ways of taking legal action against the pope. Their efforts came to nothing because the pope was a head of state and so enjoyed diplomatic immunity.

In 2011, victims of sexual abuse by the clergy asked the International Criminal Court to investigate the pope and three Vatican officials over sexual abuse.

The New York-based rights group Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and another group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), filed a complaint with the ICC alleging that Vatican officials committed crimes against humanity because they tolerated and enabled sex crimes.

The ICC has not taken up the case but has never said why. It generally does not comment on why it does not take up cases.

NOT LIKE A CEO

The Vatican has consistently said that a pope cannot be held accountable for cases of abuse committed by others because priests are employees of individual dioceses around the world and not direct employees of the Vatican. It says the head of the church cannot be compared to the CEO of a company.

Victims groups have said Benedict, particularly in his previous job at the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal department, turned a blind eye to the overall policies of local Churches, which moved abusers from parish to parish instead of defrocking them and handing them over to authorities.

The Vatican has denied this. The pope has apologized for abuse in the Church, has met with abuse victims on many of his trips, and ordered a major investigation into abuse in Ireland.

But groups representing some of the victims say the Pope will leave office with a stain on his legacy because he was in positions of power in the Vatican for more than three decades, first as a cardinal and then as pope, and should have done more.

The scandals began years before the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope in 2005 but the issue has overshadowed his papacy from the beginning, as more and more cases came to light in dioceses across the world.

As recently as last month, the former archbishop of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony, was stripped by his successor of all public and administrative duties after a thousands of pages of files detailing abuse in the 1980s were made public.

Mahony, who was archbishop of Los Angeles from 1985 until 2011, has apologized for “mistakes” he made as archbishop, saying he had not been equipped to deal with the problem of sexual misconduct involving children. The pope was not named in that case.

In 2007, the Los Angeles archdiocese, which serves 4 million Catholics, reached a $660 million civil settlement with more than 500 victims of child molestation, the biggest agreement of its kind in the United States.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the pope “gave the fight against sexual abuse a new impulse, ensuring that new rules were put in place to prevent future abuse and to listen to victims. That was a great merit of his papacy and for that we will be grateful”.

See Also:  The Pope Benedict Toxic Corruption Data Dump

LAPD combing through 12,000 pages of priest sex abuse records for leads

Reuters | Feb 6, 2013

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Los Angeles police are combing through some 12,000 pages of priest abuse records released last week by the city’s Catholic archdiocese to determine whether to open any new criminal investigations, authorities said on Tuesday.

Many of the cases detailed in the more 120 personnel files were already known to law enforcement, a Los Angeles Police Department spokesman said, and others could not be prosecuted because the statute of limitations had run out.

But detectives wanted to make sure no leads had been missed in documents made public by the archdiocese as part of a 2007 civil court settlement, officer Bruce Borihanh said.

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“Now that the list is available we want to be proactive and look at that list,” Borihanh said. He said he was not aware of any specific case that investigators were focused on and that it was possible no new leads would be discovered.

The probe marks the latest development following Thursday’s release of the files, which has already led Archbishop Jose Gomez to strip his predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony, of all public and administrative duties.

Mahoney’s former top aide, Thomas Curry, also stepped down as bishop of Santa Barbara. Both men had been linked to efforts to conceal the abuse.

In further fallout, the Los Angeles Unified School District severed its ties on Monday with a priest who, the files show, was once accused of molesting a teenage girl.

Father Joseph Pina, 66, took a job working for the school district in 2002, several years after he resigned as a pastor and was placed on inactive leave by the church. An attorney for Pina has declined to comment to Reuters on the matter.

The Los Angeles archdiocese, which serves 4 million Catholics, reached a $660 million civil settlement in 2007 with more than 500 victims of child molestation in the biggest such agreement of its kind in the nation.

Mahony at the time called the abuse “a terrible sin and crime.”

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)

The Cardinal and the Truth: Mahony concealed decades of rape and intimidation of children

mahoney pope
Cardinal Mahony with the pope. (Photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano) April 20, 2012

nytimes.com | Jan 27, 2013

No member of the Roman Catholic hierarchy fought longer and more energetically than Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles to conceal the decades-long scandal involving the rape and intimidation of children by rogue priests. For years, the cardinal withheld seamy church records from parents, victims and the public, brandishing endless litigation and fatuous claims of confidentiality.

The breadth of Cardinal Mahony’s cover-up became shockingly clear last week with the release in court of archdiocese records detailing how he and a top aide concocted cynical strategies to keep police authorities in the dark and habitual offenders beyond the reach of criminal prosecution.

Cardinal Mahoney Hid Child Sex Abuse Cases

“Sounds good — please proceed!” the cardinal, now retired, instructed in 1987 after the aide, Msgr. Thomas Curry, cautioned against therapy for one confessed predator — lest the therapist feel obliged to tell authorities and scandalize the archdiocese. The two discussed another priest, Msgr. Peter Garcia, who admitted specializing in the rape of Latino immigrant children and threatened at least one boy with deportation if he complained. Cardinal Mahony ordered that he stay out of California after his release from a New Mexico treatment center out of fear that “we might very well have some type of legal action filed in both the criminal and civil sectors.” Monsignor Curry worried that there might be 20 young people able to identify the priest in “first-degree felony” cases.

It was the cardinal’s obligation under the primacy of secular law to instantly notify authorities of any priest’s criminal behavior. Instead, he invoked a nonexistent church privilege to hide miscreant clergy and shield the church and his own reputation. Cardinal Mahony has repeatedly apologized in recent years and insisted that the archdiocese was mending its ways. A lawyer for the archdiocese insisted that the scandal and the cardinal’s cover-up were “part of the past.” Not really. While statutes of limitations on possible criminal charges may have run out, Cardinal Mahony and his former aide could be deposed in civil suits. Monsignor Curry also managed to advance up the hierarchical ladder and would seem to merit instant removal from his current post as auxiliary bishop for Santa Barbara.

Arch Paedophile Jimmy Savile: Catholic Church seeks to strip star of his Papal knighthood


The Pope meets Jimmy Savile in 1982 Photo: PA

Jimmy Savile could become the first person to be stripped of a Papal knighthood posthumously after the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales asked the Vatican to investigate removing the honour.

Telegraph | Oct 26, 2012

By Tom Rowley, and Sam Marsden

There is growing disquiet among senior members of the church, which has itself been rocked by child abuse scandals, that the disgraced late TV presenter’s name remains on the list of recipients of one of the highest awards the Pope can bestow.

The Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, has now written to Rome asking whether Savile’s Papal knighthood can be annulled in recognition of his victims’ “deep distress”.

Church sources said there was no established process to remove a Papal honour posthumously because the award dies with the recipient.

However, senior Roman Catholic clergy in Britain feel that the Vatican should look at whether it can do something to recognise its disgust at the “deeply shocking” series of allegations of child sexual abuse made against the former Jim’ll Fix It presenter.

There is no guarantee that the church will be able to remove the honour and no fixed timetable for Rome to reply to the Archbishop of Westminster.

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A source said: “The honour itself goes when the person dies but nevertheless it would appear on Papal honours lists. I don’t know if you remove it entirely or whether there is an asterisk to say, ‘well, actually…’”

It is thought that a Papal knighthood has never previously been removed posthumously. “It would be very, very rare if not unprecedented,” a source said.

Savile, who described himself as a devout Catholic, was made a Knight Commander of St Gregory the Great by Pope John Paul II in 1990 for his charity work.

The honour is awarded to Catholics, and on occasion non-Catholics, who have demonstrated “pre-eminent” service to their faith, community, or the work of the Vatican.

Other recipients have included Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire media tycoon, Sir Matt Busby, the former Manchester United Manager, and John Hume, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Northern Ireland politician.

A spokesman for the Archbishop of Westminster said: “The Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, wrote last week to the Holy See asking the competent office to investigate whether the Papal Honour awarded to Jimmy Savile for his charitable works could be posthumously removed and its effects nullified, recognising the deep distress of all those who have suffered abuse and the disquiet at Mr Savile’s name remaining on Papal Honours lists.

“While the outcome of the current police investigation is awaited, the allegations of abuse are deeply shocking and our thoughts go first to all those who have been abused. The Church invites all those who have suffered abuse to come forward to the appropriate authorities.”

There have also been calls for the UK Government to strip Savile of the British knighthood he was awarded in 1990.

David Cameron, the Prime Minister, hinted earlier this month that the honour could be removed.

However, the Cabinet Office said that honours ceased to exist when a person died, although there is a campaign to change the law so that they can be revoked after death.

 

Knights of Malta treasures displayed in the Kremlin


Photo: RIA Novosti

Moscow Times| Jul 6, 2012

by Tatyana Zavyalova

Museums of Italy, France, Malta and Russia have combined efforts to make an impressive exhibition dedicated to the history of the oldest Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, better known as the Order of Malta.

This exhibition has opened in the Moscow Kremlin Museums to last between the 6th of July and the 9th of September.

Announcer: The exhibition called Nine Centuries of Serving Faith and Charity contains about 200 works of art and documents. The Moscow Kremlin Museums have provided a lot of unique items for the exhibition. Director of the Kremlin Museums Yelena Gagarina says:

“Rare items from collections and archives in Italy, Malta, France and the Island of Rhodes, as well as those of the Kremlin, bring to the memory the main periods of the life and activities of the Order of Malta that are full of heroic struggle and the noble cause of protecting poor people. Here one can see Grand Masters’ crowns, Daggers of Faith, crosses and insignia that belonged to famous Grand Masters, weapons and armour of the Knights and wonderful portraits. The highlight of the exhibition is a portrait of a Maltese knight painted by great Italian artist Caravaggio which was kindly lent by Palazzo Pitti in Florence.”

The exhibition in the Moscow Kremlin marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and the Order of Malta. In this connection, Grand Master Matthew Festing has arrived Moscow. Officials of this high rank had not visited Russia for over 200 years. The opening ceremony of the exhibition in the Kremlin was attended by Fra John Critien, the keeper of the Order of Malta’s art collections. He remembered close historical links between Russia and the Order of Malta.

“The exhibition grants a wonderful opportunity for Russian people to better understand the Sovereign Military Order which had relations with the Russian Empire for several very important years. They were the years when Emperor Paul I, initially a patron of the Order, became its Grand master and thus saved the order during the critical years of its existence. Visitors will understand why the Russian Emperor protected the Catholic Order.”

Those events date back to the very end of the 18th century when Napoleon conquered Malta in 1798 and the Order was mercilessly robbed and evicted. Paul I came to the rescue and invited the knights, who were well-known in the world for their humanistic activities, to Russia. In gratitude, they gave him the title of Grand Master. After the death of Paul I, the next Russian Emperor Alexander I refused to be the head of the Order, so practically all regalia of the Order were returned from Russia to Rome.

Contacts between Russia and the Order of Malta began long before Paul I. The Knights often helped Russian sailors. Curator of the Kremlin exhibition Yelena Gavrilova speaks about one of the exhibits, a manuscript with a long list of names.

“During the Battle of the Dardanelles in 1656, the united Navy of Russia and Venice defeated the Turkish Navy. Seven thousand of Christian slaves who served on Turkish galleys were set free as a result. Two and a half thousand of them were taken to Malta where they were provided with food and medical treatment, clothes and money. This document reads that each of the former slaves was given a sort of a passport to be able to go home. This list contains 1,200 names of our fellow-countrymen, Orthodox Christians described as Muscovites or Rusites.”

The Order of Malta has the reputation of some kind of an international rescue team. It grants aid to people in many countries spending up to a billion euros a year. Some volunteers of the Order are Russians, though there are only about 100 of them.