Feb 2, 2015

The Military Corps-Auxiliary of the Italian Army of the Order of Malta’s Italian Association celebrated its 138th anniversary in Rome. On 31 January last, the swearing-in ceremony of the Military Corps’ new volunteer recruits took place in the parade ground of the Artale Barracks in the presence of Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing.

The Grand Master was received by Narciso Salvo di Pietraganzili, Magistral Deputy Commissioner of the Order of Malta’s Italian Association and by Colonel Mario Fine, Commander of the Military Corps. The army band rendered him military honours.

The ceremonies for the Military Corps’ 138th anniversary were inserted in the array of official events and commemorations of national governments and local administrations to mark the centenary of the outbreak of World War I. In the command’s multimedia hall, the Military Corps’ chief chaplain, Msgr. Luigi Michele De Palma, Secretary of the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences, gave a lecture on “The Order of Malta’s Intervention in the Great War”, recalling what the Order of Malta did to rescue and treat the wounded on the various war fronts.

An engagement initiated thanks to Pope Benedict XV – the same pope who called the First World War a “useless massacre” – who in January 1915 entrusted the hospital of St Martha, next to St. Peter’s Basilica, to the Order of Malta. With its 350 beds, the hospital looked after over 3000 war wounded.

Monsignor De Palma went over the historic events of the Military Corps which, with its four hospital trains, transported 148,016 wounded from the war zones to hospitals in Italy, covering 483,848 km for a total of 641 journeys. The Order’s eight first-aid posts in the railway stations close to the front treated over 94,000 patients.

At the end of the lecture, the Grand Master pointed out that the Order was present on all fronts in the First World War, from the French to the Austro-Hungarian one, from the Belgian to the German one with equal commitment and without distinction of nationality. “Albeit separated by the fortunes of war, the Order of Malta’s national bodies separately performed the Order’s mission of assistance,” stated Fra’ Matthew Festing.

After the talk, the Grand Master visited the Military Corps’ History Museum, admiring the collection of memorabilia (including 8 flags, 12 historical uniforms and 75 items of headgear) and a great quantity of documents and photographs. The museum also houses an extensive section devoted to the Order of Malta’s medical service during World War I. To mark the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War a programme of visits has been launched for students and teachers.


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