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OBIT-BERTIE Feb-8-2008 (530 words) With photo. xxxi

Grand master of Knights of Malta dies in Rome

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- The grand master of the Knights of Malta, Fra Andrew W.N. Bertie, who gave a new humanitarian impetus to the ancient order, died in Rome at the age of 78.

Bertie, the first Englishman to be elected to the post of grand master in the order's 900-year history, died Feb. 7, officials of the organization said.

Pope Benedict XVI sent a telegram of condolences, describing Bertie as a "man of culture and commitment" who used his office to help the most needy.

The members of the order are expected to gather in Rome in the coming weeks to choose a new grand master, whose election must then be approved by the pope.

Bertie, elected in 1988, came from a noble family and had a wide range of experience. He taught judo, grew orange trees, served as an officer in the Scots Guard, spoke five languages and once worked as a financial journalist in London.

"A man of quiet reflection and wide interests, although of a certain British reserve, Fra Andrew was much loved by all who worked with him on his many projects," said a statement from the Knights' headquarters in Rome.

Throughout his term as grand master, Bertie increased the emphasis on the order's charitable activities, modernizing its practices and organizing international conferences to promote programs for the needy.

He emphasized that membership in the order, which is still by personal invitation, was not about prestige but service.

"To be a member of the order is not an honor. It's not about being able to dangle a nice cross around your neck. It's not a question of sending in a check once a year. It's about working with the sick and the poor," he said in a 2002 interview with Catholic News Service.

Today the Knights run clinics, hospitals, nursing schools and centers for the elderly and disabled throughout the world.

Bertie regularly volunteered in hospitals and clinics, though he did not like to talk about it.

Known officially as the Sovereign Military Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, the organization was founded during the Crusades in the 11th century. Today the order has 12,500 members. Of this number, only a small minority take monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; from their ranks a grand master is chosen.

While part of the Knights' mission always has been defending the faith, that is no longer accomplished through military means. As Bertie said in the 2002 interview, "Our militarism today is in making sure our clinics and hospitals are run according to Catholic ethics."

Born May 15, 1929, Bertie was educated in Oxford and London before doing military service. After his stint as a journalist, he taught French and Spanish.

He was admitted to the Knights of Malta in 1956, took solemn vows in 1981 and served on the order's Sovereign Council for seven years before being elected grand master.

One of Bertie's proudest achievements was that under his leadership the order increased its bilateral diplomatic missions from 49 to 100 countries.


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