By Nadia Maria Smith
CS&T Staff Writer

WYNNEWOOD – Three ancient orders of the Catholic Church came together to honor Cardinal Justin Rigali in a solemn Mass and reception Friday, May 23 at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and the Order of Our Lady of Mercy (Mercedarians) joined the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta – also known as the Order of Malta – to witness the highest honor the Order of Malta could give the Cardinal: the Bailiff Grand Cross of Honor and Devotion.

The Cardinal was honored for his work in the Church and for his support of the order, said Daniel Kelly, KM, the president of the American Association of the Order.

Cardinal Rigali became a magistral chaplain of the Knights of Malta in 1984, while he served at the Vatican. Since that time Cardinal Rigali has helped the order and the advancement of their work wherever he has served the Church, including Philadelphia, Kelly said.

He presented Cardinal Rigali with the insignia of the Grand Cross, which was blessed by Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, a prior recipient of the same honor, during the Mass.

“There are two charges that have been given to the Order in its nearly 1,000-year history – one is to serve the sick poor and the other is to defend the faith. Cardinal Rigali admirably fulfills both,” said John Haas, the Philadelphia chairman of the Order of Malta. “He has been a great defender of innocent human life. He has been a great spokesman for morality and the life issues and is renowned for his fidelity to Church teaching.”

The Order of Malta is one of the oldest military, chivalrous and noble institutions of Western and Christian civilization. It was recognized as a religious lay order of the Church by Pope Paschal II in 1113.

Following its historic mission to help the sick, the needy and the most disadvantaged in society, the Order of Malta continues its work today, operating in more than 120 countries.

Its programs include medical and social assistance, disaster relief and emergency services as well as support for refugees and internally displaced persons regardless of race, origin or religion.

Malteser International, formally the Order of Malta Worldwide Relief, has been working in Myanmar, for example, since 2001 on several humanitarian projects, including health care and safe drinking water.

The order relies on the involvement of its 12,500 members, as well as approximately 80,000 trained volunteers and 15,000 employees, the majority of whom are medical personnel, to carry out its work.

Locally, the Order of Malta has served the homeless at St. John’s Hospice in center city and will be working with Mother’s Home in Darby to assist unwed mothers and their children.

The two other orders present at the seminary also trace their beginnings to the Middle Ages and to a shared mission of defending the faith.

The Mercedarians, who originally worked to ransom captive Christians held by Muslims and now work in Catholic education, run Our Lady of Lourdes Parish and School in Overbrook.

The Order of Malta in Philadelphia is housed at Ivy Hall, also in Overbrook. The two orders have worked together in the past.

Members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, which the Church first charged with guarding the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem against Muslim attacks and later to continue working for and promoting the Church in the Holy Land, were invited to attend the celebration since Cardinal Rigali is also a member of that order.

The Cardinal expressed gratitude for the honor and prayed for the Order of Malta and its mission of charity.

CS&T staff writer Nadia Maria Smith may be reached at or (215) 965-4614.