EARLY IN 2002, Archbishop Nicholas Chia received enquiries from Rome of the possible formation of a branch of the Order of Malta in Singapore.
As the medical and hospitaller sector remains at the heart of the vocation of the Order of Malta, Archbishop Chia felt, after many months of reflection, that the Order would have a useful role here.
On Feb 23, 2003 at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, Archbishop Chia was appointed as Conventual Chaplain ad Honorem of the Singapore Order of Malta, and the persons below invested:
Michael Khoo (President), Jimmy Yim (Chancellor), Dr Gabriel Oon (Hospitaller), Justin Taylor (Treasurer), Dr Andrew Kwok, Anthony Tan Ju Seng, Joseph Pillay, Alphonsus Tan Chok Kian, Dame Elizabeth Soh, Dr Peter Chew Chee-Tong, and Simon Grenfell.
THE ORDER OF Malta, which was recognised by the Pope in 1113 AD, is the fourth oldest Catholic religious order in the world. The motto of the order is Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum, "To defend the faith and to serve the poor".
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It began as a Benedictine nursing Order founded in Jerusalem in 1070 AD following the first Crusade. Inspired by St. John the Baptist, its patron saint, its members professed the three vows of obedience, chastity and poverty, and cared for sick pilgrims travelling from all parts of Christendom, to the Holy Land.
This led them to develop sophisticated hospitals, hospices, and relief stations to help the sick and the faithful on pilgrimage to distant lands. Many of these hospices are seen throughout Europe on ancient pilgrimage trails today.
As they offered protection to the sick and the poor on pilgrimage, the Order adopted the additional role of "military" and soon became a Christian military order under its own charter, charged with the care and defence of pilgrims.
Following the loss of Christian territory in the Holy Land, the Order operated from Rhodes, over which it was sovereign, and later from Malta as a vassal state under the King of Sicily. The medieval Order can be said to have come to an end following its ejection from Malta by Napolean.
The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta is the main successor to this tradition, better known simply as the Order of Malta.
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Today the Order's energies are focused on humanitarian and hospitaller activities. The Order operates ambulance services and welfare and emergency relief in natural disaster areas and areas of conflict, and is active in over 120 countries.
It is involved in relief work in almost every country affected by the 2004 tsunami and by the October 2005 earthquake.
The Order is recognised as a Sovereign Entity under International Law, but it is a State without a national territory. It has official Diplomatic Relations and Delegations with almost 100 countries, and is a permanent observer member of the United Nations and its agencies.
Its headquarters is in Rome and, today, there are some 12,000 Knights and Dames throughout the world.
Membership is only open to practising Catholics who follow, and are willing to step forward to defend, the Magisterium (the teaching office and authority) of the church.
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There are three types of membership: the First Class (usually cardinals, bishops and priests) who swear full religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; the Second Class (equivalent of lay Brothers and Sisters) who swear the same vows and other religious commitments; and the Third Class who are members of the laity who profess their allegiance to God and their country in an investiture celebrated within the Holy Mass, whilst also making the same sacred commitment to the service of the poor and to the Faith. Members of the Third Class do not profess the three religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Once a member is accepted into the Order, he or she will remain as a member for life.
From the very early years the Knights have lived out and followed the essential teachings of Jesus using the eight beatitudes as a religious model and charisma, one signified by the eight pointed white cross worn today on their black Church mantles.
At every solemn Investiture Ceremony, each new Knight and Dame is reminded in the oath which they swear, to follow the beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12), as preached by Jesus Christ, and is a core of his teaching, and also about the works which Jesus asks of us in the Gospel of Matthew (25:31-46) "I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcome me. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited meâ€¦ Truly I tell you, just as you did it to the least of these who are my family, you did it for me."
(For more information on the Order of Malta visit www.orderofmalta.org)