Fra' Andrew Bertie would be first Blessed with a black belt in judo

The beatification Cause of Fra’ Andrew Bertie, who led the Order of Malta for 20 years, has opened.

Fra’ Bertie was Grand Master of the order from 1988 until his death in 2008, having joined in 1956. He was the first Englishman to become Grand Master since Hugh Revel in 1258.

During his tenure the Order, which was founded in the 11th century to protect pilgrims, expanded its activities around the world, delivering ambulance and disaster relief and setting up hospitals and homes for disabled children. In 1990 it built a maternity hospital in Bethlehem.

If Fra Bertie’s Cause progresses he would be the first Blessed with a black belt in judo.

Educated at Ampleforth College, he worked as a financial journalist and a teacher. A skilled linguist, he spoke five languages fluently and understood half a dozen others, including Sanskrit and Tibetan.

In an address last week current Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing said his predecessor was a saintly man who had inspired him, along with many others, to join the Order.

He recalled Fra’ Bertie tending to his orange groves in Malta and teaching local children judo, saying: “Even in his declining years, former students would come to visit him, never forgetting the kindness and wisdom they had experienced at his hands, as a teacher, as a coach, as a wise friend.

“His personality was quiet – that famous British reserve! – but he had a natural authority and a serenity deeply rooted in his Christian beliefs. He also had a fine sense of humour – a quiet amusement at the ridiculousness of much of life. Those who were privileged to have worked around him were always aware of his calmness and his profound faith.”

Today the Order of Malta is supported by 80,000 permanent volunteers and backed by a staff of 13,000 doctors, nurses and auxiliaries.


Address by Fra’ Matthew Festing on the occasion of the Mass for Fra’ Andrew Bertie

The Order of Malta is gathered in this magnificent Archbasilica to celebrate a historic occasion: the opening of the diocesan enquiry into the Cause of the Beatification of Fra’ Andrew Bertie, 78th Grand Master of the Order. It is a fitting place for such a celebration – this is the oldest of the four great papal basilicas of Rome, consecrated in the fourth century (324 A.D.) as ‘Domus Dei’, House of God, and Fra’ Andrew was head of one of the oldest Orders of the Catholic Church, dating from the eleventh century.

I wish to thank His Eminence Cardinal Agostino Vallini, Vicar General of His Holiness for the Diocese of Rome, for his generosity in welcoming over a thousand of the Order’s members and volunteers here today. And I wish to thank His Eminence Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, our Cardinalis Patronus, for his celebration of Mass, which we have heard with great joy.

Today is a proud day for Fra’ Andrew’s family – for his brother Peregrine and Susan, his wife, for their children, grandchildren and extended family – and for us, too. As I look around this congregation, I note how many members of the Order of Malta have come together from many parts of the world, to acknowledge and celebrate this event. You have travelled from 35 countries to join with us to express your affection and respect for an outstanding and deeply spiritual man, and I extend my gratitude to you all. It is a sign of special devotion to Fra’ Andrew as Grand Master who meant so much to the Order and to each of you personally.

Fra’ Andrew Bertie served the Order of Malta with great distinction for almost all his adult years – and twenty of them as Grand Master, the first time an Englishman had been elected to the position since 1258. He was a reformer and moderniser for an Order which has existed for nearly a millennium. He was a polymath and a multi-linguist. After a Benedictine schooling, and then Oxford and London universities, he was in the army, then a journalist, and a teacher. But above all, in all his endeavours, he was dedicated to the service of God and to the service of the poor and the sick. These qualities shone through everything he undertook.

Fra’ Andrew was one of the founders of the young British group of volunteers of the Order, known as the OMV, and he maintained his engagement in the welfare of young people and their concerns all his life. At his home in Malta, summers were passed happily tending his orange grove, but also teaching local children judo. He was a black belt, excelling in that, too. Even in his declining years, former students would come to visit him, never forgetting the kindness and wisdom they had experienced at his hands, as a teacher, as a coach, as a wise friend. He inspired many of the young to join the Order and work for the poor and the sick and he inspired, too, many to consider the vocation to become a professed member of the Order. Indeed, I am one of those.

Fra’ Andrew’s confessor, Mons. Azelio Manzetti, recalled in his last illness the strength of the faith of this 78th Grand Master, of his love of the Rosary, in particular the glorious mysteries, his love for the Church and the Order, his piety, but above all his devotion to Our Lady of Philermo, saying: ‘She is the Madonna of the Order’s Grand Masters.’ And he recalled his serenity in returning to the Lord. Pope Benedict XVI, in mourning his passing, described Fra’ Andrew as a ‘man of culture’ and recalled his generous commitment to those most in need, and his ‘love for the Church and his shining witness to evangelical principles.’

His personality was quiet –that famous British reserve! – but he had a natural authority and a serenity deeply rooted in his Christian beliefs. He also had a fine sense of humour – a quiet amusement at the ridiculousness of much of life. Those who were privileged to have worked around him were always aware of his calmness and his profound faith. It was very uplifting. Fra’ Andrew carried out his official duties with great commitment, but it was in his communications one-to-one that he was more comfortable. In those moments he was probably at his most expansive and those who had this privilege will never forget his modesty, his wide-ranging knowledge of things both spiritual and temporal, his generosity of spirit and his understanding of what commitment to caring for those in need means. He practised this charity all his life, he inspired so many of us, and he has left us a shining example: tuitio fidei, obsequium pauperum. The one with the other.

Thus it is with great joy that the Sovereign Order of Malta acknowledges and honours Fra’ Andrew Bertie, an exceptional servant of God.

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