Merton College Dean and Keeper of the Statutes, Fra’ John Eidinow, was elected last month as a member of the Sovereign Council of the Sovereign Order of Malta (or the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, and of Malta, to give it its full name). Founded in 1098, and recognised as a lay religious order of the Catholic Church in 1113, the Sovereign Order of Malta now works in 120 countries, caring for people in need through its medical, social, and relief work, and providing support for those traditionally identified in the Order as “Our Lords the Poor”.
The Order is especially involved in helping people living in the midst of armed conflicts and natural disasters. One of the surprising things about the Sovereign Order of Malta, which ruled Rhodes 1309-1522 and then Malta until 1798, and is now headquartered in Rome, is that it remains a sovereign subject of international law: it exchanges ambassadors with 112 states and the European Union, and has Permanent Observer status at the United Nations. The Sovereign Council is the government of the Order, and oversees its work throughout the world and its diplomatic relations. In Oxford, the Order works through the Oxford Companions of the Order of Malta, a group of students who focus particularly on outreach to homeless people.