MANILA, March 2, 2015—The head of one of the world’s most revered Catholic charity organizations is currently in the Philippines for a week-long official visit until March 7, Malacañang announced.
According to Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCCO) Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., Fra’ Matthew Festing, the 79th Prince and Grand Master of the centuries-old Sovereign Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta (SMOM), whose arrival marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the republic and SOM, is scheduled to meet with President Aquino to discuss bilateral relations.
1st in decades
Festing is the first SMOM Prince and Grand Master to visit the Philippines in over three decades, after Fra’ Angelo de Mojana di Cologna, who was in the country in February 1979.
He will proceed to Eastern Samar to see the ongoing shelter projects funded by SMOM for families affected by typhoon “Yolanda” (international name: “Haiyan”).
Houses in Samar
Of the 700 core shelters expected to be finished by May 2015, 540 are already completed, 64 still under construction, and 96 yet to built.
The official SMOM delegation will also meet with Vice President Jejomar Binay, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, and Acting Health Secretary Garin.
On March 5, 2015, Festing and his delegation will travel to Basey, Samar to inspect 350 houses donated by the Order.
SMOM, through its humanitarian assistance relief arm, Malteser International, has continuously been extending various forms of assistance to the Philippines, contributing significantly to healthcare, hygiene intervention, feeding programs, and providing food supplements and medical supplies, and disaster relief and rehabilitation.
Over the last couple of years, the country has received between 150 million to 300 million dollars annual assistance from SMOM.
According to its official website, SMOM has been a religious Order since 1113, when it was recognized by Pope Paschal II.
As such, it is linked to the Holy See, but at the same time, an independent sovereign subject of international law, with its religious character coexisting with its full sovereignty.
Prince and cardinal
The Grand Master is concurrently head of a sovereign State and head of a religious Order. In this second capacity the Catholic Church gives him the rank of Cardinal.
Some SMOM members are religious who have professed the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and others have taken a special vow of obedience, while the great majority are lay knights and dames all of whom are required to maintain exemplary Christian behavior in their private and public life, and to contribute to the maintenance of the Order’s traditions. (Raymond A. Sebastián/CBCP News)