30 Years of the Order of Malta’s Relief Organization in Lithuania: from Knights’ of the Monks to a Community of Thousands of Volunteers
The Order of Malta Relief Organization (Maltesers) is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. This anniversary is a great opportunity to get to know the Maltesers, their activities, when and how it started. The Lithuanian Maltesers is a part of the Order of Malta, one of the oldest charity organisations in the world, providing assistance to the poor in 120 countries. Celebrating its anniversary, the organisation in Lithuania unites about 1500 volunteers in 43 locations across the country to help the elderly, children growing up in socially vulnerable families, the disabled, people in difficulties and refugees.
The Maltesers Organisation in Lithuania was founded in October 1991 by bishops Juozas Tunaitis, Jonas Boruta, priest Vaclovas Aliulis and others with the aim of establishing a Catholic charitable organisation in Lithuania, which would be guided by the values of the Order of Malta, and would provide assistance to people of all races, religions and nations.
Now, after 30 years of Lithuanian Maltesers’ activity, the organisation can already boast of telling statistics: 1500 volunteers, including about 500 young Maltesers, which is equivalent to 30 full passenger buses with 1/3 of the passengers being young people; the Maltesers feed and care for 2600 elderly people, which could fill up almost 7 football pitches; about 150,000 portions of food are distributed per year, which is enough for every resident of Klaipeda; have established 16 Children Day Care Centers and support 1227 children throughout Lithuania – the same number of pupils learn in 3 average Lithuanian schools; 137,572 km have been travelled to transport the disabled and the sick – 98 times around Lithuania; and 37,200 km have been travelled on pilgrimages with the disabled to Lourdes and to Šiluva – the equivalent of a round-the-world trip.
The most important thing is support
Although the volunteers remain the main force of the organisation, the patrons and honorary members have played a major role in its development and credibility in society, and their support has always been an important foundation of the Maltesers’ activities.
“Maltesers activities are the most beautiful expression of humanity. In fact, in retrospect, the Maltesers’ assistance to the needy has helped to protect and nurture humanity in different epochs, in times of war and peace, in the struggle for independence and in taking the first steps towards freedom”, – says President Valdas Adamkus, Honorary Member of the Relief Service of the Order of Malta and Patron of the elderly support campaign “Maltesers’ Soup”.
Today Maltesers are proud of the abundance of volunteers, people’s trust, and the gratitude of the people they care for, but the historically rich origins oblige the organisation to reveal where the value base of human assistance has been formed over the centuries, and to what times the origins of Lithuanian patronage date back. These are perhaps the most important elements that have helped Maltesers to pass the tests of time, different cultures and historical events.
A rich history
The origins of the Order of Malta date back to the mid-11th century, when Christians received permission to build a church, a convent and a hospital in Jerusalem to care for pilgrims travelling through the country. At the same time, The Community of St. John was founded and became the first nucleus of Maltesers activity. As a result of the wars that raged in the 11th century, the Order of Malta not only took care of pilgrims, but also performed military functions, so that the monks were joined by knights. Among them and the members of the Order of Malta there were representatives of the dynasty of Radvilai, Pacai, Ostrogiškiai, Sanguškiai, who were prominent in the dynasty of Lithuania – in the families of these noblemen we can trace the first Lithuanian Maltese.
Later, the occupation and the Soviet era followed. The gaze of the Order of Malta has been turned to Lithuania only in 1989 because of speaking about independence. The first German visits of the Order’s representatives were unofficial and exploratory, to assess what social and medical assistance Lithuania might need in their first years leading up to and during its independence. Large amounts of charity are starting to arrive in the country after the events of January, with most of the country’s hospitals lacking medical equipment, basic beds and medicines. Already in 17 January 1991, a huge shipment of medical equipment, medicines and clothes reaches Lithuania. Although the country is still occupied by tanks, the German Maltesers visit the victims of January 13th in hospital and help them – several seriously ill patients are transported abroad for treatment with the mediation of the Maltese.
After these events, a Maltesers office is established in our country to coordinate the German Maltesers’ relations with the Lithuanian government, ministries, bishops and to take care of the establishment of a representation in Lithuania. In October 1991, the Maltese organisation in Lithuania was officially registered.
During the first years of its activity, the Lithuanian Maltesers established 2 social canteens, a home for the elderly in Vilkaviškis, and were active in supporting hospitals, old people’s and children’s homes, schools.