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30 Days - In the Church and the World

No.3 June 1988

By- Pina Baglioni

pages 72-73

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He is English, from London. He is "only" 59 years old, young for his post. He is of the highest nobility: in fact, he has royal blood in his veins. His mother, Lady Jean Crichton Stuart, is a descendant of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, the "Catholic" par excellence, and he is therefore distantly related to Elizabeth II. His father James, a nobleman of ancient British aristocratic stock, with the title of the counts of Lindsay and Abington, was a broker on the London Stock Exchange who, in both world wars, served as an officer in the British Navy. The sister of his father married the brother of Sir Winston Churchill.

This noble geneology belongs to Andrew Willoughby Ninian Bertie, elected April 8 as the 78th Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Order of Malta. ["Knights of Malta" .... JP] He succeeds the Italian Brother Angelo de Mojana di Cologna, who died January 18 after 26 years of rule.

Descended from families and individuals used to governing, this "king without a kingdom" will guide 12,000 Knights scattered throughout the world, and a religious, military and hospital Order inspired by St. John the Baptist, of whom Christ said numquam surrexit maior: "Never has a greater man arisen. "

Brother Bertie was included in a brief list of "outsiders" with a chance to be elected in the period before the Grand Electors of the Order, 35 in all, closed themselves inside the splendid villa designed by Piranesi on Aventine Hill in Rome. His election, as is known, was not a unanimous one, even if, in hindsight, one cannot say he did not fit the requirements that the Holy See had indicated through the Order's Cardinal "patron," Sebastiano Baggio: a young Grand Master, to give the Order a younger character and greater stability.

Among Bertie's "opponents," the so called "continualists," the candidates who received the most support were the elderly Jean Charles Pallavicini, the lieutenant who could have guaranteed continuity with de Mojana's leadership, and Von Lobstein, well liked in Roman circles. Instead, on April 8, after just four hours of conclave, the Order's Council of State chose this English gentleman, very reserved and ascetic - and very cultured .

He speaks an incredible number of languages: 17, to be exact, including several of the Indo-oriental and Slavic linguistic groups, and, as he himself says, a "bad Italian," somewhat mixed with Spanish. This, perhaps, thanks to an adventuresome youth in which he travelled to various parts of the world after military service in the royal Scottish guard between 1948 and 1950. He graduated in languages at London University after studying at Christ Church College, Oxford. He then attended the two-year program at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

Andrew Bertie seemed destined to a prestigious career as a businessman following in his father's footsteps. [He was in fact a silk salesman for the company of Johnson and Johnson.] At a certain point, however, he decided to dedicate himself to journalism on the staff of the City Press. His real goal: to travel the world. During long trips to India and Sikkim, he became familiar with the mountainous regions of the Himalayas and he lived among the Tibetan Lamas learning the techniques of contemplation. He is considered one of the world's leading scholars of Tibet.

Upon his return to England, he decided to teach languages - French, Spanish, and Russian - at the school of the Benedictines of Wort in southern England.

His appointment as a Knight of Malta in 1956 was determined by one of the "invitations" that are traditionally sent to members of aristocratic Catholic families. At the age of 33, he decided on the vow of obedience. Though he dedicated himself to charitable work, Bertie did not neglect his passion for sports. In fact, he is a black belt in judo. In 1977, he took the solemn vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, becoming a monk like the other "professed" members of the Order. In 1981, he took perpetual vows.

In recent years, he helped administer the Order's Palace-State on Via Condotti in Rome. But above all the Grand Master made the spirituality of the Order his own. Since 1962, he has organized and led the annual pilgrimage to Lourdes, and he is a permanent member of the hospital service of that sanctuary. He set up at Wort a band of strong stretcher-bearers who accompany the sick to the sources of the miraculous waters of Lourdes.

The post that he has assumed with the explicit approbation of the Pope grants him the rank of Cardinal in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. The fact that he is British is nearly unprecedented. His most recent British predecessor as Grand Master of the Order of Malta was Hugh de Revel who assumed the post more than 700 years ago, in 1277. From the time of the Crusades on, the choice never again fell on a subject of the English crown, especially following the decision of Henry VIII to break diplomatic relations with the Order - relations that have never been re-established even though Queen Elizabeth agreed last year that the Knights of Malta might publicly exhibit their standards even in the United Kingdom.

Many observers have noted that a British Grand Master who is also close to the Queen [herself the head of the schismatic twin Order, the Venerable Order of St. John], cannot help but reinforce the ecumenical dialogue between Rome and London that is particularly important to John Paul II.

In the new Grand Master, all the religious and civil powers of the Order come together for the rest of his life. Even if he is the supreme head, however Brother Bertie will have to govern "with the Convent," that is, with the Sovereign Council which is the Order's executive organ. He is expected to have the quality of "perfection" and that very severe spirituality expressed in the severed head of St. John the Baptist, the Order's ancient symbol. He will have the duty of watching over discipline and of conducting canonical visits to the 500 institutions throughout the world. These enjoy a "Common Treasury" of almost 500 million dollars, not counting the property belonging to the Order's 70 associations and 50 embassies.

Cardinal Baggio has said of Bertie, "He is a man of great religious fervor, educated by the Benedictines, and it should not be forgotten that the Order of Malta is a religious order. He has a great advantage over the other Knights: he is 59. He will live as long as God wishes but we wish him at least another 20 years."

A sign of the spirituality of Brother Andrew Bertie is his great veneration for Blessed Hadrian of Fortescue, the cousin of Anne Boleyn, beheaded in 1539 for having opposed the reform of Henry VIII.

With his appointment as Grand Master, a wind of radical change is beginning to blow through the Order. The first intention that "His Most Eminent Highness" is said to have circulated among the "entourage" of the Knights concerning the future management of the Order is that of reducing the cost of the Order's delegations, on the grounds that a religious order does not need such expenses.

All the great tasks will have to wait for a year and a half, when the General Chapter will be convoked. Then perhaps another one of Bertie's desires will be realized: that embassies, the treasury and hospitals be entrusted only to those who have taken the vow of poverty, chastity and obedience, and have received their investiture with the sword. Currently, many of the highest posts are in the hands of those who were admitted to the Order as honorary members.

But these may not be the only new developments. There is also the possibility of a return of the headquarters of the Order to its origins, that is, to the island of Malta. For years, Brother Bertie has lived, with his mother, in the Maltese capital, Valletta. On Malta, therefore, the Grand Master is at home. The return of the Knights to Malta would restore to the island some of the importance and prestige it has now lost. It seems, then, that Malta would like "its own" Knights to return, nearly two centuries after they were forced to leave by Napoleon's troops, who took the island as they prepared to invade Egypt in 1798.

Important decisions await this ascetic and shy British nobleman, and he will need all his courage to confront them: "a courage stronger than a ram's," as the motto of the Bertie family proclaims.

Picture caption- ANDREW BERTIE Grand Master of the Sovereign Order of Malta. At "only" 59, he is a youngster - for his job. Descended from nobility for 200 years, royal blood flows in his veins: he is a distant relative of Queen Elizabeth. A possible boost for the Anglican dialogue John Paul II considers so important.