Monday 16th April saw the annual Malcolm Hay of Seaton memorial lecture take place in Aberdeen University’s historic Elphinstone Hall. The result of an endowment left by Malcolm Hay’s widow, this annual lecture focuses on his extensive academic interest in Christian/Judaic relations and was this year given by Fra’ Matthew Festing, Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
The Order of Malta is the oldest order of knighthood in the world, whose origins can be traced to about 1050. By the turn of the 12th century, it had become a military order active in the Crusades and it remains an active Roman Catholic chivalric order, headquartered in Rome, but with around 13000 knights worldwide. Although supressed as a sovereign state by Napoleon, the order uniquely continues to receive international diplomatic recognition, sending and receiving ambassadors to many countries and enjoying the status of permanent observer at the United Nations.
Today its work is entirely charitable and Fra’ Festing’s lecture concentrated on the role of the order in the 21st century in fostering inter-faith dialogue in the Middle East. He made the point that the order is politically neutral and that its principal raison d’etre remains the care of the poor and the sick. The order has around 80000 permanent volunteers engaged in this work and employs 20000 medical personnel. Its roles are many and varied, but include running 11 healthcare centres in Lebanon and a maternity hospital in Bethlehem, the only one in the area, where around 3000 (mainly Muslim) children are born every year. Closer to home, the order is in the process of creating a ‘dial-a-ride’ service in Stirling in central Scotland to provide transport for the elderly, disabled or those with special needs.