His Most Eminent Highness, Fra’ Matthew Festing, the Prince & Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta made a four-day visit to Hungary last month, from 8-11 of February. The Grand Master was invited to Hungary by the President of the Republic, Mr. László Sólyom, who met with Fra’ Matthew at the Sándor Palace in Budapest. The President and the Grand Master discussed the various collaborative efforts between Hungary and the Order of Malta in health and social fields and discussed the possibility of further developing those projects.
The Grand Master and his delegation also met with the Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament, Ms. Katalin Szili, the Prime Minister, Mr. Ferenc Gyurcsány, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Kinga Göncz, the Prince-Archbishop, Cardinal Peter Erdő, and the Apostolic Nuncio, Abp. Juliusz Janusz. Fra’ Matthew also had an opportunity to meet with knights and dames of the Hungarian Association of the Order, and with members of the MMSZ, the Order’s local volunteer organization.
After the President offered the Grand Master a luncheon in his honour, Fra’ Matthew laid a wreath on the Memorial to the Fallen Soldiers in Heroes’ Square, in the center of Budapest.
“Here in Hungary,” the Grand Master asserted following his meeting with President Sólyom, after the Revolution of 1956, the Order of Malta was able to offer immediate assistance to thousands of refugees and homeless people. In 1989, the traditional friendship between the Order and Hungary — interrupted for several years — was re-established after the country regained its freedom and national independence.”
“Since then,” Fra’ Matthew continued, “the Order’s Hungarian Association and its hospitaller service, the MMSZ — celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year — have accepted the invitation of the Hungarian authorities to work in numerous health and social centres coordinated through our embassy. Several programmes have been set up to tackle these commitments, including the creation of a national network. During its twenty years, the MMSZ has become the major welfare organization in Hungary, with a wide range of initiatives. Its standing is proved by the fact that it employs some 900 people and has around 12,000 volunteers. I am very pleased that the Hungarian authorities have shown their appreciation for the results obtained.”
Ties between the Order of Malta and Hungary are long-standing. In the XIIth century, King Stephen III donated some of his domains along the Adriatic to the Order, and by 1200 the Hospitallers ran five hospices within the Hungarian kingdom. From 1217 until the fall of the monarchy in the XXth century, each King of Hungary was a member of the Order. In this photograph from 1931, the Grand Master of the Order, Prince Ludovico Chigi Albani della Rovere, and the President of the Hungarian Association of the Order, Archduke Joseph von Hapsburg, are seen on their way to a special mass at the Coronation Church in Budapest. As official diplomatic relations between the Order and Hungary had been formally established in 1925, Prince Chigi was accorded the full honours of a head of state on his visit. The Communist regime abolished any legal recognition or protection of the Order in 1945, but diplomatic relations were restored in 1990.