Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum
(Defend the Faith and Help the Needy)
I recently participated in preparing food and serving it with a number of volunteers at the US Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland for wounded soldiers and their families. Whatever one thinks about the war is not relevant in the service of the sick and needy, just as the Johanniter Hospitallers have been serving the wounded and the sick, including Muslim soldiers and non-military patients for many centuries. This made me reflect a bit on the role that the Johanniter have played over the years in fulfilling this mission.
The motto of the Order was first established in the 12th century. The Order of St. John is the oldest humanitarian organization of its kind. Throughout the past 900 years, the Order has helped those affected by war, whether military or civilian, soldiers or those they have left behind. This is done for all races, for those of all religious faiths, in any location worldwide, regardless if they are victors or defeated. Johanniter knights cared also for their Muslim enemies during the time of the Crusades, a very revolutionary concept.The concept of chivalry comes from this time. The main goal of the Order, as established over 900 years ago, is to give help to the our Lords the Sick and the Poor. With the advent of the 21st century, this is, as ever, the core of our mission. Continuing to help those wounded in war as well as their loved ones will continue to be a fundamental precept of this goal along with the maintenance of traditional virtues of honor, duty, self-sacrifice and piety.
Since 1080, the Order founded a hospital to take care of Christian pilgrims. With the role of protecting these pilgrims and the increasing presence of the Crusaders, the Order became more involved in helping those affected by war. Master Gerard set up the rules of the following fundamental virtues of Christianity: love your neighbor, solidarity in the community, helping the sick and indigents, welcoming pilgrims and those without lodging. Even after the fall of Jerusalem in 1187, Saladin let the Hospitallers take their belongings to the frontier. Some brothers were permitted to stay to take care of the wounded until they could leave.
Worldwide suffering still continues; wars unfortunately still are waged. Our eight pointed Cross will still be shown wherever sickness and distress demand our help regardless of which side. It stands as a symbol of Christian care and altruism.
The Johanniter have returned to this ideal of its first founder at the time of the first Crusade. Since King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia reinstated the Bailiwick in 1852, the Order has reaffirmed itself to caring work involving those who have been in battle. The 19th century allowed for better documentation. The Order was greatly involved in the founding of the International Red Cross (the first Vice President was a Johanniter, Prince Heinrich XII von Reuss). During the Prussian wars against Denmark, Austria, and France (1864, 1866, 1870-71 respectively) as well as World War I, the Johanniter were successfully involved (along with the Order of Malta) in the running of military hospitals and in the transport of the wounded. In a British periodical, the Macmillian’s Magazine in 1869, a journalist wrote the Johanniterorden “has done more than any other society to solve the question whether the assistance of volunteer bodies, in addition to the military sanitary service, is to be tolerated on the battle-field and in the hospital.” The journalist furthermore wrote, “It was in the recent Danish campaign (of 1864) that the knights of St. John won their fairest laurels.” After World War II, the Johanniter continued to help transport relief packages to German POWs and former POWs.
Today, the Johanniter Unfall Hilfe (JUH) is the Order’s largest enterprise, having more than a million members supported by about 3500 young persons who do the social service in lieu of military service. Amongst its many duties is to provide civil defence, support, care and help to those in need.
The difference as to why the Order has been able to survive and reach into modern times is attributed in part to devoting itself to charitable works based on the teaching of the Gospel. It has been answered to call where there is a need and where there is suffering. The aspect of taking up arms followed thereafter. Other orders were the reverse and thus did not survive.
Wherever the Knights Hospitallers established themselves, they always established a hospital and a hospice. The Johanniter continue to dedicate ourselves to easing suffering and bringing Christian charity to the sick, not only in hospitals, but in private homes, etc. Battles are no longer fought with swords, but with the peaceful tools of the fight against suffering, disease, poverty, social isolation, intolerance as well as the defense and promotion of the Faith.
Johanniter Herald, St. John’s Day