The ambassador of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM) accredited to Malta, Silvano Pedrollo, has expressed concern about the unrecognised orders that have mushroomed on the island, saying it was "intolerable".
The Malta Year Book lists a number of "knights" forming part of such unrecognised orders.
Dr Pedrollo, who has just paid his first official visit to Malta to present his credentials, discussed the issue with President Eddie Fenech Adami, saying the SMOM would be considering a strategy to fight the unpleasant and potentially damaging phenomenon. He stressed the importance of clarifying what the real Order of Malta is and represents.
The Veronese ambassador was bewildered by the fact that Malta provided such fertile terrain for the sprouting and thriving of unrecognised "orders" claiming to be similar to the SMOM.
The problem was not nearly as acute in Italy, for example, he said. Italy has legislation that forbids the conferring of titles by everyone except for sovereign states and international organisations. Of course, where no such law exists, anyone can confer a title, the ambassador said.
The SMOM issues official declarations now and again and warns of the unrecognised orders, he said. Such orders have always been around and it is not their mere existence that constitutes a problem. The harm is caused by the fact that they ride on the name and reputation of the SMOM and, as a result, may give rise to misunderstandings on the true ideals and genuine activities of the Order.
The SMOM, which has the authority to issue diplomatic passports by virtue of its recognised sovereignty, is informed on a regular basis of arrests at airports over fake passports that have been issued by orders that have no recognition.
Moreover, there are many who join orders with ambiguously similar names and are unaware that they are not in the SMOM until they arrive at its official seat in Rome's Via Condotti requesting the renewal of an expired passport.
There is nothing religious and canonical about the unrecognised orders, Dr Pedrollo said.
Throughout his term of office, Dr Pedrollo intends to uphold the spirit and principles of the Order, whose mission remains to serve the sick and needy.
The Order played a major role in South East Asia following the devastating tsunami and the Grand Magistry was quick to mobilise its assets, collecting funds and supplying doctors, in what was considered to be a strong, concerted and concentrated action plan, Dr Pedrollo said.
He more than fulfils the prerequisites of knighthood. A businessman and entrepreneur by profession and president of the Pedrollo SpA, a leading firm in the production of equipment for agricultural, civil and industrial use, the ambassador has embarked on several personal philanthropic initiatives, particularly focused on youths and education, following in the footsteps of his uncle, Don Luigi Pedrollo, who is being nominated for beatification.
The Pedrollo Foundation is just one initiative, the fruit of a visit to Bangladesh 20 years ago and the shocking experience of the level of poverty in a country where life expectancy is 35. He poured a portion of a successful business into a school for women, which has grown from 800 to 1,500 students.
Educational initiatives were also embarked upon in Albania, Kosovo, Guiana and Peru, where various structures, such as social centres, were created. In Thailand, a centre is being set up for children, between two and six years old, who are suffering from AIDS and whose parents have died of the same illness.
Dr Pedrollo is currently focusing his attention on Africa, where he claims the same amount of people who died in the tidal wave lose their lives every year. "The only difference is that no one talks about it," he said, adding that the Order "tries to go where no one else treads". It is also organising the health system in three regions of Afghanistan.
Many may consider the Order to be associated with pomp and ceremony, exclusively for the elite, and its voluntary, philanthropic efforts may go by unnoticed, hidden behind elaborate robes.
Dr Pedrollo is aware of the need for more "visibility" and, possibly, for the order to market itself, raise awareness of its role and function and convey the right image in the public eye - although it would go against a predominantly modest and discreet approach to charity.
"I don't really like talking about what we do but I suppose, sometimes, it has to be done. After all, it is a means of opening the doors to more people, who are available to help."
Asked whether the Order planned a drive to attract younger members, Dr Pedrollo said that, in Italy, the contrary was required and young prospective knights had to be turned away.
Historically, the Order was reserved to European nobility, but, today, 60 per cent of its members are not.