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Historic Order faces modern aid challenges

A Knights of Malta volunteer working at a children’s home in Ukraine.

A Knights of Malta volunteer working at a children’s home in Ukraine.

The economic recession has given a new meaning to the mission of warrior monks who defended the sick and pilgrims in the Holy Land 900 years ago.

Once known as the Hospitallers, the Knights of Malta are now feeding the recession’s victims and will be opening homeless shelters and soup kitchens in Oxford, Brighton and London.

“The Hospitallers have projects around the world to feed and aid the homeless. This has become one of the areas of our activities where the Order sees particular need because of the economic crisis. These are the new poor,” Philippa Leslie British, spokeswoman for the Order, said when contacted.

Ms Leslie explained that as homelessness was a growing concern in Europe, the Order was running regular soup kitchens and shelters in an ever-increasing number of countries.

The Order traces its history to an 11th century infirmary in Jerusalem set up by a monk to care for pilgrims and was officially recognised by Pope Paschal II in February 1113, exactly 900 years ago.

Over the years it provided aid in war zones and countries hit by natural disasters but it is now concentrating more on Europe where the numbers of unemployed and homeless are rising due to austerity cuts. There are three shelters in Madrid and one in Seville.

In France, the Order distributes hot food in Paris and runs two barges on the Seine for homeless men.

In Germany it cares for 3,000 homeless in Berlin, Hildesheim, Hamburg, Cologne, Paderborn and Freiburg.

Social stores and clothing shops were opened for the very poor, benefiting almost 28,000 people in 2012.

Hospices in Brussels and Liege, in Belgium, cared for more than 17,000 during the same year.

In Italy, it organises evenings of assistance for the homeless in Milan and Rome, providing hot food and blankets.

Over 17,000 hot meals were given to the homeless in two stations in Rome.

The Order runs soup kitchens in Hungary, Lithuania, Romania, Russia, Moldova and Ukraine and is planning to open more in Britain and Ireland.

Almost a millennium after it was founded, the need for its work prevails.

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