Path to Peace Gala Dinner 2024
Acceptance speech by His Most Eminent Highness,
Prince and Grand Master
of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta
Frá John Dunlap
New York, 23 May 2024

Your Royal Highness,
Dear Confreres in the Order of Malta,
Dear Friends all,

I am so honoured to be here this evening to accept this prestigious award, the Path to Peace Award, on behalf of all the members of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, better known as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. This is the third time that a Grand Master has been thus honoured and it is completely due to the extraordinary work that the members of the Order and our volunteers carry out throughout the world.

I wish to thank the Board of Directors of the Foundation. And, before anyone says anything! Yes, I am a member of the Board of Directors of the Foundation and have be so for over twenty years but I did not vote for myself and the vote was held without my knowledge and consent. In fact, I am not even sure that it was valid. This is all Archbishop Caccia’s doing. I feel a bit like Florence Foster Jenkins who is finally making her debut on Broadway.

It seems so strange to be standing here before you this evening. I have lost count of how many times I have sat at this dinner, never dreaming that I would one day receive the Path to Peace Award. Those of us who are old enough will remember the historic Gala Dinners held on board the yachts circling Manhattan. I remember well both Cardinals O’Connor and Egan shaking hands with everyone and then escaping down the gangplank before the ship would leave the pier in the Hudson River. Otherwise, there was no escape for at least four hours!!!!

Times have changed and I am fully aware that I am all that stands between you and dinner!!! I shall be brief. I can still remember the President of Argentina who spoke for over forty minutes, in Spanish!!

Later, the Gala was moved to the Delegates Dining Room at the UN and once or twice to a huge tent on the lawn of the UN Headquarters when the facility was under renovation. Happily, we have outgrown one space after another.

I am touched to see so many friends, both old and new, from around the world this evening. I am especially happy to see those colleagues from Dunnington, Bartholow & Miller, my law firm, who have put up with me since 1987. I am also happy to see my friends from ArchCare which has played such a large part in my life and my vocation in the Order of Malta. I am humbled to see the large group which has come from the Grand Magistry in Rome just for this evening. Thank you all.

The Path to Peace Foundation was established in 1991, by then Archbishop Renato Martino when he was Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer to the UN. Please keep Cardinal Martino in your prayers as he has been quite sick these past few weeks and will no doubt be happy of our prayers. He was a mentor to me. I first met him when he was posted to the Nunciature in Ottawa as a young Monsignor. We actually shared a French Teacher, Soeur Jeanne Marie, at the Insitut Jeanne D’Arc. We met again in the early 1990’s when he came to New York. I was a young lawyer and he asked me to lunch on 38th Street. At the end of lunch, he said that he needed a lawyer to help him with the Sixth Committee and asked if I would be willing to help. I can still hear him saying that “this is a great honour but no money, no money!!” I worked for the Mission for many years and served under multiple Nuncios; including, Monsignors Martino, Milgiore, Chullikatt, Auza and Caccia. Once I joined the Order of Malta’s Sovereign Council and had to commute to Rome, it became almost impossible for me to continue to cover the Sixth Committee. I had such a good time during those years and have met and worked with so many capable Vatican Diplomats posted to New York who now hold very senior posts in the Roman Curia or in the Diplomatic Service. I learned so much from them and am pleased to now have a circle of good friends scattered around the globe. I have seen countless interns go through the programme at the Mission. Many have gone on to importance posts like Patrick Kelly, who is here tonight, and is now Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus.

The Path to Peace Foundation is independent from, but collaborates with the Holy See Mission to the United Nations. Its principal purpose is the spreading of the message of Peace by which the Catholic Church, through the words and activities of the Pope and of the Holy See, strives to guide our steps into the Path of Peace. Aside from supporting the Mission to the UN, the Foundation fosters projects of a religious, conciliatory, humanitarian and charitable nature with a view to promoting fundamental human rights by calling attention to specific emergency needs arising in different parts of the world. It really does wonderful work. I thank the Foundation for the yearly assistance it provides to the Order’s hospital in Bethlehem. I am truly pleased to have served for so many years on its Board, and both as Treasurer and now Secretary.

For those who do may not know the Order of Malta; it is a Catholic lay Religious Order that is almost 1,000 years old. The Order is comprised of Knights, Dames, Donats and Chaplains that number about 13,500 individuals. At the core of the Order are its Knights of Justice, religious knights, who take the three evangelical vows and who are the direct descendants of crusading knights who founded the Order. It began in Jerusalem to help pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land. It is a subject of International Law with Sovereign functions. It maintains bilateral diplomatic relations with 113 countries and the European Union. It has Permanent Observer Missions to the United Nations, both in New York and Geneva, and its specialised UN agencies and has delegations or representations to 17 International Organisations. The Order’s Ambassador to the UN in New York, Paul Beresford Hill is here with us this evening. The Order has over 65,000 employees worldwide who work mostly in the medical field in some 120 countries. The Order is active in some 1,500 hospitals. To all this we must add the over 100,000 Malta Volunteers on whom the Order can count on a daily basis.

The Sovereign Order undertakes many humanitarian activities across the globe, without distinction as to the region, political consideration or the status of the beneficiaries from a cultural, religious, or social point of view. The many activities on the ground testify to the genuinely global nature and outreach of our Order.

It is in this outreach that the Order demonstrates its faithfulness to its vocation to serve our lords the sick and the poor. The duty to assist the poor is indeed universal, and the Order strives to mirror this universality in its approach to the problems of global poverty. For example, we do not deal exclusively with relief or development aid. We devote special attention as well to the themes of social inclusion and cohesiveness, as we care for the poor, the disabled or the elderly in many countries that are classified as advanced economies. Sadly, the existence of the “New Poor” – that is, the poor living in wealthy states – is a dramatic social reality, and the needs in this regard have increased significantly.

Assisting the poorest and the most vulnerable at the international level, however, requires several conditions, in particular the widespread respect for some basic universal principles and a framework of effective international co-operation. The Order of Malta believes in an international order based upon principles of human fraternity and solidarity. This is the reason why the Order upholds the norms of International Humanitarian Law and recognises itself in the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations.

Only an international system based on principles and rules and on mechanisms of mutual co-operation, mediation and peaceful resolution of conflicts will ensure the enjoyment of human rights and a decent life. By decent life, I mean the availability of basic services, such as education and healthcare, which are the conditions for sustainable economic growth.

This past January, the Diplomatic Corps of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta met in Rome to reaffirm our core commitment to serve our lords the Sick and the Poor, and to accomplish this inspired by Christian values in imitation of Christ. We do this irrespective of race, creed or culture. It is an inspiring testimony to our enduring adherence to the Gospel message that almost 1,000 years after our foundation these principles still drive us, especially in New York at the United Nations and in the over 120 countries in which we serve with love and care.

His Holiness Pope Francis, graciously agreed to meet with us and, in his address to our diplomats, stressed the importance and the significance of co-operation between the Sovereign Order and the Holy See. He called on us, while respecting our respective uniqueness and independence, to strive to find ways to support each other’s mission and to enjoy, and I quote, “a relationship of fruitful collaboration and joint action for the good of the Church and society.”

In our several ways, the Order of Malta and the Holy See are both in the business of humanitarian diplomacy, united in a common faith and called to serve the People of God.

With the support of the Grand Chancellor, who is here tonight, and who occupies a role in the Order akin to both Prime and Foreign Minister, our diplomats, assigned to 113 countries and our missions to 37 International Organisations, keep us informed, on a daily basis, of events, issues and concerns that may have a global humanitarian impact. On the ground, feedback in respect of natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, as well as drought and famine, enable us to appropriately allocate and deploy resources where and as needed. Accurate intelligence, data and assessment enable us to respond to government appeals, our diplomatic status enabling us to cut through red-tape and bureaucracy, to co-ordinate with other international bodies and to work closely with United Nations agencies in bringing aid where it is most needed.

Conflict zones around the world represent an ongoing and existential crisis of proportions un-parallelled in recent history. Our presence in Ukraine, one of the First Aid agencies to enter the country and serve its people, has been consistent and intense. Along with our colleagues from the Alliance Orders of Saint John, we have been engaged in extensive collaborative measures to alleviate suffering, particularly in providing mobile psycho-social care for children and young adults traumatised by the effects of the war. Working with Ukraine Relief Services of the Order of Malta, we continue to bring food to the hungry, assist with the evacuation of the elderly and handicapped and to provide medical and first aid support in increasingly difficult and dangerous circumstances.

The Order has processed over 800,000 Ukrainian refugees since the beginning of the war and I am proud to say that not one has been sent to a camp! Temporary homes were found for each refugee. I remain haunted by the words of last year’s Honouree, Filippo Grandi, High Commissioner of the United Nations for Refugees. He said at this dinner “ Nobody makes as difficult a choice as refugees. The choice to leave behind everything that you have, that you know and that you love – that is the most difficult choice that any human being can make. Family, friends, home, work – to plunge into the unknown. And they must do it to save their lives, the lives of their families. They have do it have freedom. To have hope in the future”.

We must never forget that Jesus and his family were once refugees in the land of Egypt. Joseph had to make that terrible decision to flee King Herod for the sake of his baby son’s life. He too left everything that he knew and cherished for a strange and inhospitable land that had once enslaved his people.

In the Holy Land, where our Founder and my predecessor, the Blessed Gerard, established the first Hospital of the Order almost 1,000 years ago, we continue to be a vital and comforting presence in an environment which has seen destruction and death, beyond contemporary memory, in a land which was the cradle of our salvation and yet which, for so many Christians, Jews and Moslems, has become a cradle of despair. Yet, true to our Mission, and in the spirit of love for all mankind, we remain in the West Bank, particularly in Bethlehem, nurturing new life at the Holy Family Maternity Hospital and, against all odds, giving a reason for hope to many families whose lives have been all but destroyed by the conflict. I am happy to report that late last year, the 100,000th baby was born at Holy Family Hospital.

Two years ago, we had the privilege of welcoming Archbishop, now Cardinal Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, to the Order’s Annual Investiture here in New York, never realising the trauma that would impact his mission in the land of our foundation and propel him onto the global stage as a powerful advocate on behalf of those who are left behind and who have become the new “wretched of the Earth”. Our continued support of his work in securing aid to the beleaguered people of Gaza, particularly helping the many thousands of orphan children who will need extensive support once hostilities cease, continues and will increase in time, as conditions allow more aid workers to enter Gaza unimpeded and without fear for their welfare.

I am happy to report that as I left Rome earlier this week, word reached us that the Order’s Grand Hospitaller, Fra Sandro de Franciscis, had been allowed into Gaza, alongside the Patriarch, and had brought the first load of First Aid and food packages to be distributed through the Catholic Parish in Gaza. I thank Fra Sandro for his determination and valour. His description of the horrors and destruction he encountered are too vivid to be described here. Professionals from the Order’s International Aid arm, Malteser International, are already in the Holy Land to determine the best way to get further aid to those in desperate need in Gaza.

Multi-lateral co-operation and a system based on universal principles of solidarity are also requisites for dealing with fundamental themes of our time. International co-operation and respect for universal principles must be employed to effectively deal with migration, global health, debt, climate change, energy transition and the many challenges, as well as huge opportunities posed by the development of Artificial Intelligence.

Unfortunately, the international system appears to be moving in the opposite direction. We are confronted with more fragmentation, new division and strategic competition and rivalries. The Order is deeply concerned about resistance to the spirit of multi-lateral co-operation. This is particularly true when we see the United Nations faced with situations where its mandate on Peace and Security cannot be fulfilled because of divisions within the Security Council.

The risks of instability and the areas of crisis and conflict are on the rise. Hence, the immense humanitarian tragedies that are occurring under our very eyes. Ukraine and Gaza are the most obvious cases, but other crisis situations are either neglected or overlooked by the international community. As Pope Francis said recently, “We are living through a piecemeal Third World War.

Whenever a crisis turns into a conflict, the most severe consequences are borne by civilians, and in particular, by the most vulnerable groups: children, women, the elderly and the disabled. We have seen it in Ukraine and in Gaza, with daily reports of hundreds of dead and wounded among the civilian population. No civilian infrastructure or social service is being spared: homes, schools, hospitals, factories, roads and so on. Most recently, we have witnessed the deliberate targeting of energy infrastructure, with the goal of cutting off vital energy supplies to the civilian population in the midst of the most difficult weather and living conditions.

We have seen hospitals and relief operations targeted by combatants with devastating effect. This destruction of vitally important institutions has virtually destroyed the health system for millions of non-combatants, putting whole societies at risk. Such a situation is contrary to the very notion of ethical human behaviour. The Order of Malta reaffirms its commitment to an international system based on rules and principles of fraternity, co-operation and solidarity.

We call, in particular, for respect for International Law, International Humanitarian Law and the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations. The Order, through its diplomacy, has done so consistently over the past year and will continue to do so. We have participated in international events; we have spoken in international fora; and we have released statements in which we have clearly reiterated the need for respecting human lives, the neutrality of humanitarian aid, and the protection of the relief workers who bring assistance to those in peril.

Still, the international community needs to do more. All the entities and organisations, whose mandate and vocation are deeply rooted in the humanitarian mission, should work together to ensure a greater impact and a stronger advocacy effort directed a political leaders, the Media, educational institutions and other channels of public communications.

Major international fora, such as the G7, the G20 and others, should be urged consistently by humanitarian advocates to draw attention to the dire humanitarian and social consequences of wars and conflicts. The destruction of infrastructure adds to the heavy costs incurred by the Countries in conflict, but ultimately borne once again disproportionately by civilian. The Sovereign Order of Malta is apolitical and neutral, but it is not insensitive to violence and injustice and certainly does not turn its eyes away from human tragedies and the responsibilities that cause them.

This year, the United Nations has identified “the Future” as a major theme for the 2024 General Assembly. The Summit of the Future, embracing so much of the incredible work that is being done by the UN, particularly in the area of sustainable development and climate change, will pose many difficult and some say, impossible, questions. The responses of world leaders will be telling, as they will be asked to put alliances and political, religious, cultural and economic differences aside and focus on what kind of world we want for our children and our grandchildren. Will there be a consensus, indeed can there be a consensus considering that the once accepted multi-lateralism and its rules based order is slowly giving was to new, and in many ways, re-emerging alternatives? Multi-polarism and the emergence of politically and regionally aligned blocks, reminiscent of the East-West divide of the Cold War, is more of a reality now that it ever was. Furthermore, the Third World has now morphed into the North/South divide, further complicating our understanding of how we humans have organised our planet.

While the Summit of the Future will engender much spirited debate, the problems facing all of us are profound and complex and at the heart of many problems lie the lives and the futures of ordinary people, buffeted by factors over which they have no control, most significantly climate change and political and economic imbalance.

Our mission as a religious order, a humanitarian actor, a centre of humanitarian diplomacy, and as a representative of the Christian Faith, has never been more necessary nor more important. It seems to me, no coincidence that the political remedies once considered central to the purpose of the UN Security Council are no longer to be found in its resolutions as, more often than not, the political discussion reverts to a consideration of its humanitarian consequences. The voice of the Sovereign Order of Malta, raised on behalf of the sick, the poor and the marginalised is becoming louder in the Security Council Chamber, as we have contributed to debates and briefings on humanitarian concerns in the Ukraine, Palestine and Syria, and more recently, on the condition of civilians in conflict zones. Our role is advocacy, least the world forget the marginalised, and our work is service to those in need, wherever there is a need.

I pay tribute to the Holy Father for his leadership on the global stage, and I extend my grateful thanks to the Holy See Permanent Observer Mission for its leadership at the United Nations. Our collective contribution to the Summit of the Future will show the world that the United Nations, indeed, has a conscience and is not afraid to voice its concerns on behalf of an inclusive humanity, a humanity that while vulnerable and fragile, is also a singular creation of God and, as such, is imbued with His love and grace because we know, dear friends, as the poet Virgil tells us: “Amour Vincit Omnia”. Love conquers all and love is at the very heart of the Order of Malta.

Thank you again for this tremendous honour which I accept on behalf of all those associated with our beloved Order.