The noble act of assisting the sick, the poor and other people in times of difficulty, has been reaffirmed for over nine hundred years in the ranks of the Order of Malta. On the occasion of the Feast of St. John the Baptist, patron saint of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, which the Catholic calendar commemorates on 24 June, we interviewed the Ambassador of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta in Belgrade, Alberto di Luca.
Excellency di Luca, perhaps not all our readers are familiar with the extraordinary history of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM) and its current activities. What are the values that the Order promotes in the contemporary world?
The Sovereign Order of Malta is one of the oldest institutions of Western and Christian civilization. The Sovereign Order of Malta is a lay religious order of the Catholic Church since 1113 and is a subject of international law; it has diplomatic relations with more than 100 states and with the European Union, and it has the status of permanent observer at the United Nations and at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean (in which Serbia also participates). It is neutral, impartial and apolitical.
In the 120 countries where the Order of Malta is present, it provides assistance to people in need through its medical, social and humanitarian activities. In everyday life, its broad spectrum of social projects provides constant help to those who are forgotten or excluded from society.
Even in a complicated period like this marked by Covid-19, your commitment to the Make a Wish initiatives has not ceased. Which ones in particular?
Donation of respiratory masks during Covid emergency in Serbia
Our almost millennial mission of closeness to those who suffer has recently been made even more necessary. I do not hide the operational difficulties in managing every single action. I am thinking of the bureaucratic difficulties in bringing into the country some respiratory masks donated by an Italian family last June 2020 which were necessary to manage the most serious cases of Covid. We have also thought about the fundamental phase of prevention. A disinfection “tunnel” entered the “Make a WISH to the Order of Malta” project and was donated to the “Kovin” Psychiatric Hospital in Kovin in November 2020. Naturally the masks have played a fundamental role in the prevention, and so the “Make a WISH” letters which we received from Shelter for children in Belgrade, Santa Petka Institute in Izvor, Belgrade Archdiocese and other Catholic and Orthodox churches, Clinical Center of Niš, have been materialized with the supply of several thousand washable multipurpose masks.
You have been representing SMOM in Serbia since 2010 and you are, I believe, the longest-standing diplomat in the country. What are the transformations that you have noticed in the country during these years, also in relation to your assistance activity?
Serbia is an interesting country with deep roots in history and also in difficulties. Getting out of it is a long and delicate process but I see it going on. When I think only of the Belgrade skyline and how much it has changed in recent years, and when I see a crane on a construction site I think of new workplaces not only for employees, but also for those who work in manufacturing industries or sell furniture, kitchens or televisions. I think of the interest shown by foreign companies in coming to Serbia to grasp the quality of the work that is offered.
How far has the interreligious dialogue got in Serbia?
I don’t feel qualified to answer such an important question. As part of our activities, we try to encourage this dialogue in every possible way. I remember a few years ago when we started the “Make a WISH” project to help the Santa Petka Institution in Izvor which houses about ninety girls with psycho-physical problems, we were asked if we knew that the management was entrusted to the Orthodox Nuns. Well, of course we knew it but for us it was not a discriminating factor in choosing who to help. In fact, I’d like to point out that the Order of Malta is dedicated to protection of human dignity and to the assistance of all those who need help, regardless of their origin or religion.
After the acute phase of the pandemic, what are the challenges that the Order intends to face also in Serbia?
Now we have in mind a big “WISH” that will be addressed to youngsters. This time, we will not only think of children growing up in difficult socio-economic or health conditions, but we will focus on helping today’s youngsters to face the challenges of the future. We think that in their life path there must also be a closeness to the world of sport, to physical activities. Not only to improve general health conditions, but also to achieve sense of belonging to a “group”, to learn positive thoughts and ultimately, to get them off the streets. If we succeed, and until this day I am forced to put an “if”, it will be thanks to numerous donors from various countries, thanks to the Belgrade Archbishop Mons. Stanislav Hocevar – who gave us the idea – as well as the mayor of a city in Serbia who is working on finding space to build a multi-sports field.
Which city and when? Can I use the right not to answer (so I won’t bring bad luck)?!
Alberto Di Luca has been Ambassador of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta to Serbia since 2010. He has held top positions in the luxury watch sector and is now a Senior partner in an executive search company focused on the Luxury, Transport and Communications sectors and IT. Deputy from 1994 to 2006 and president of the Bicameral Shengen and Immigration. In June 2014 he has become the Knight of Grace and Justice of the Sovereign Order of Malta and in July 2017 he was awarded the Grand Cross Merito Melitense of the Sovereign Order of Malta
In 1986 the President of the Italian Republic conferred the Gold medal on him for athletic achievements at Quirinale Palace for winning a World Championship in Powerboating, Offshore boat racing.