By Linda Bordoni
One of the core missions of The Sovereign Order of Malta is its “Hospitaller” mission that puts it at the forefront of healthcare emergencies and relief, including the current Covid-19 pandemic.
Its medical personnel and paramedics, together with an army of permanent volunteers, form an efficient network reaching out to people in need throughout the globe.
At a time in which the World Health Organization, echoed by health experts, political analysts and religious leaders continue to highlight the need for a fair and equitable distribution of anti-covid vaccines, many countries are grappling with the second wave of the pandemic and its far-reaching consequences.
Albrecht von Boeselager, the Grand Chancellor of the Sovereign Order of Malta, upheld this position in an interview with Vatican Radio in which he speaks of how the Order is assisting especially the most vulnerable: poor people, the elderly, migrants:
Boeselager wholeheartedly joins the chorus of voices warning against “vaccine nationalisms” pointing out that the issue is twofold: “The pandemic will not be fought successfully as long as vaccines are not available everywhere,” he says noting that “as long as there are remaining hot spots we will see mutations of the virus and the danger will not be under control.”
The other aspect, he says, is the equally important ethical aspect that rejects the possibility that “one part of the world has access to vaccines and the other not.”
He comments on how governments are currently tackling challenges posed by vaccines that need sophisticated infrastructure because of the cooling chain but says that once they can be handled more easily the problem of fair and equitable distribution will be central.
Boeselager explains that in line with the Sovereign Order of Malta’s mission to provide assistance to the most vulnerable groups and communities, he said it is active depending on the situation and the context.
“In developing countries, more people are dying of hunger than from the lack of a vaccine, so our immediate concern pertains to that inequality,” he says, so where access to food and livelihoods are impeded due to the pandemic and people are more in need of access to normal medical treatment and food, the Order is there for them.
In more developed countries, he says, the Order participates in all the anti-covid campaigns and runs centres for vaccinations.
He speaks of the challenges faced “in our homes for the elderly and disabled people who are at high risk,” trying, every day to balance the need to isolate people with their need for contact with their families.
As regards the Centers run by the Order for migrants, Boeselager notes that so far, fortunately, although they have had cases of Covid, there have been no mass outbreaks.
The Order of Malta and migration
In a world where millions of people are displaced and on the move, the Order of Malta has increased its presence in countries of origin, at the borders through which thousands pass, in host countries and final destinations, assisting refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants
Boeselager says one of the Order's efforts at the moment is to urge countries which have a lot of migrants within their borders, to vaccinate them as they do with their home population:
“There are some successes in this regard like in Colombia, where at first it seemed that migrants and refugees from Venezuela would not have access to vaccinations and then the government changed this attitude and they will have access to vaccinations as all the others in the country.”.
Focusing attention on the plight of hundreds of migrants trapped in the Balkans, on the Bosnian border with Croatia without adequate shelter or assistance in freezing weather conditions, Boeselager expresses his dissent at how they are being exploited and used for political reasons:
"I think it's it is scandal that people are almost taken as tools to show others they shouldn't come, that they cannot expect a good life, and they are almost taken as hostages. I think that's unacceptable.”
Awaiting Pope Francis in Iraq
The Sovereign Order of Malta’s humanitarian agency “Malteser International” is present in Northern Iraq and in the Nineveh Plains, where it runs projects for the protection of minorities and the reintegration of communities displaced during the war. The people of Iraq, both Christians and non, are currently awaiting Pope Francis’ apostolic visit to the nation scheduled from 5 to 8 March.
He hopes, Boeselager says, that the Holy Father’s visit “will give encouragement and hope to the people who are still threatened by fear and uncertainty regarding their future.
He explains that the Order’s programme in the region employs an integrated multi-sectoral approach to support the return of families in the most effective way.
It's a programme, he says, based on “Four Pillars”: providing sustainable and dignified shelters and reconstruction of war-damaged homes; enhancing livelihoods and boosting economic development with cash grants and business development; increasing access to quality education for returning children by rehabilitating schools and teacher training; promoting social cohesion and peacebuilding through interreligious dialogue and community integration activities.
“It's a vast project,” he says, “and it's running well, but still on precarious grounds.”
Regarding his vision for the coming year, Boeselager expresses his hope that thanks to the vaccination the pandemic will be brought under control and that normal human relations can be resumed.
But, he warns, it is vital not to underestimate the damage wreaked by the pandemic on the most vulnerable people in society, damage that will undermine the future of so many poor children who are impacted by lack of education due to inequality:
“Children who can’t go to school don't suffer so much if they have educated parents, with time to help them at home and space in their homes, while children in poor families, with little space and parents who are unable to be substitutes for school, suffer more. So it is really urgent that we can get back to normal and I hope that in the second half of the year this will be possible.”