Knights of Malta try to stay relevant in modern world

By Nicole Winfield

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Feb. 9 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

Festing, whose family traces their ancestry to 14th- and 16th-century knights, was elected grand master in 2008. It's a title he holds for life and is equivalent to the rank of cardinal, though he can't vote in a conclave to elect a pope.

Currently there are about 60 professed knights and Festing hopes to increase their numbers as he seeks to expand the rank-and-file base to a younger generation of equally Catholic but not necessarily noble classes around the globe.

Members are still expected to chip in when natural disasters strike or wars erupt. Contributions in the tens of thousands of dollars are not unusual. Members also volunteer, bringing the sick to the shrine at Lourdes or pitching in at a one of the order's clinics, like the maternity hospital it runs in Bethlehem, where most of the patients are Muslim.

Even though it's a Catholic aid group — whose origins date from the Crusades — the order works in several Muslim countries, including Pakistan and Syria. "We do not hide that we are Christian, but we do not proselytize. That is impossible," said the order's health minister, Albrecht von Boeselager.

All told, 98,000 members, employees and volunteers work in aid projects in 120 countries; the overall annual operating budget can run to euro 200 million, Festing says.

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