As Pope Benedict XVI serves his last days in office, the head of the Knights of Malta paid tribute to him by describing the Holy Father as “a marvelous person with a great sense of humor.”
“I will remember him with great affection, and I think he is the most marvelous person,” said the prince and grandmaster of the Order of Malta, Matthew Festing, of which Pope Benedict is also a member.
“He is very well informed; he has a great sense of humor; he is funny; he is extremely warm; he is immensely gentle and intelligent,” Festing said in a Feb. 18 interview with Catholic News Agency at the order’s headquarters in Rome.
The Order of Malta, which issues its own international passports, postal stamps and coins, is a Catholic order comparable to a state but without land.
It has permanent United Nations observer status, its own constitution and is in charge of humanitarian aid in 120 countries.
Pope Benedict recently met with Festing and more than 5,000 of its 13,500 members on Feb. 9 to celebrate its 900th anniversary, which took place on Feb. 15.
Festing, who spoke with the Pope on that day, said he told him something which really struck him.
The most interesting remark he made was: “Your daily life must be imbued with the presence of Jesus, under whose gaze you are called to face the sufferings of the sick, the loneliness of the elderly and the difficulties of the disabled,” Festing recalled.
“It happens that the present Pope, by chance, really, is a member of the order, and he was made a member when he was the archbishop of Munich,” he explained.
Festing also said he was surprised at the Pope’s resignation announcement.
“I was a bit surprised, like everybody else was, because I wasn’t exactly expecting it. And I don’t think anybody was,” said the 63-year-old Englishman.
“It has been one of the very well, best-kept secrets of all time, I think. And, certainly, I was unaware,” he remarked.
In Festing’s view, Benedict XVI is a “hugely interesting man” and “one of the most abled popes of modern times.”
Festing said the order has a great relationship with the papacy and will remain loyal to it.
“Nothing will change because our focus will merely change from one person to another, but we will go on being great friends” with the next pope, he said.
Sixty members of the Order of Malta are laymen who take vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, as well as saying certain daily Church prayers.
It started off as a military order to protect pilgrims in the Holy Land before becoming a humanitarian order.
Their work includes running the Bethlehem Nativity Hospital, which has helped women give birth to nearly 60,000 children since it was established in 1990.
They also run a social project in California that removes the tattoos of former gang members to help re-enter them in society.