A public row between the order and the Holy See ensued, eventually resulting in Festing’s resignation upon the Pope’s request, the reinstatement of Boeselager as Grand Chancellor, and the appointment of a papal delegate to oversee the “spiritual reform” of the order until a new Grand Master is elected during an April 29 convocation.
In his interview with CNA, Boeselager speaks not only of the current state of the reform, but also provides some background on his own history with the order and highlights the important humanitarian work they are doing with migrants and refugees, which forms the backbone of the order’s activities.
Please read below CNA's full interview with the Grand Chancellor:
One of the main priorities of the order that you outlined in your press conference in January was humanitarian work with migrants and refugees. Can you explain some of the initiatives the order is currently doing with migrants and refugees specifically?
The order is very much involved in the care of migrants and refugees in different parts of the world, in countries from where they come, on their way and in countries where they wish to go to. So we are active in the countries surrounding Syria: Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon, to help refugees from Syria and also, if security allows, displaced people within Syria. We are active in South Sudan, which is in a big crisis at the moment, and in other countries where there are migrants and refugees or problems of displacement of people. Often it’s internally displaced people. In Asia, in Thailand, we care for Rohingya refugees. In almost all the hotspots for migrants and refugees we are active. Here in Italy, our medical personnel serves on the Italian board to provide medical care to those saved in the Mediterranean, and in Austria, Germany, Hungry, France, we care for refugees that arrive in these countries.
Do you see any specific challenge that might arise with the increased migrant flow into Europe?
In fact at the moment, since about 12 months, the flow has reduced very much, so I don’t see at the moment a crisis of numbers in general. In the mid '90s 0.5 percent of the population in Europe were refugees or asylum seekers and at the moment it’s 0.4 percent, so it’s less than before. I think in Europe it’s more of a crisis of leadership and communication than a crisis of receiving refugees or migrants at the moment. But that does not mean that we are not faced with a great challenge, because Africa is on the move, one can say, and we certainly need a more long-term policy to deal with the challenges which will certainly be coming.
On this point, I wanted to ask about a meeting you had last week on the situation in Libya. What were some of the major points brought up in that discussion?
The political situation in Libya is at the moment again deteriorating, and human trafficking as become a big business in Libya, and all of the parties in Libya, I think, are aware that this is an additional threat to the stability of the country. So on this issue they agree, but they are helpless to deal with it. Many migrants are held in detention centers, which recently someone compared to concentration camps. I’ve never been to one of those camps so I cannot judge by myself, but what we hear from the migrants we serve coming from Libya are terrible stories, so everything that can be done to mitigate the situation should be done. Even if the steps forward are very small, we should not give up and that’s why we try now for the third time to convene a meeting with representatives from Libya and from other international organizations to start discussing what can be done to help. We are at the moment also giving training to the Libyan coast guard. That has been discussed in our ranks for long, because normally we are very hesitant to get directly involved in military or police actions, but giving training to these people who in the future will rescue people from the Mediterranean I think is necessary, and we hope that we can build trust toward the institution in Libya so in the future we may be able to help.
In the communique you guys sent out about the meeting it said some new collaborations were discussed. What would some of these collaborations look like?
We hope that in the not-too-far future security would allow us to go into Libya and to start medical care for migrants in Libya.
Moving to the topic of the spiritual reform the Order is currently undergoing, what would you say is the ultimate goal of this reform in light of everything that has happened?
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I think starting with the term ecclesia semper reformanda, we need to start with the person, personal reform and reflection on our way all the time. I think in a bigger time, steps, also institutional reforms, have to be considered. So it’s in this frame of permanent reflection; I think in Lent it’s a good time to reflect on these things. We have to look at the recent crisis, try to access where institutional weaknesses were at the base of the crisis, so it was more personal controversies which caused the crisis, and to see where we can reform the order so that we can go forward with more strength to fulfill our mission. The Holy Father has put a special focus in his letter on the First Class of the order, so those are the members of the order who have professed the three vows. Unfortunately there are only a few in the order – this is a situation we are living with for more than 200 years, so that’s not new for the order. And to see mainly what could be done or what’s necessary to allow more vocations to the First Class.
So would you say this idea of ecclesia semper reformanda was perhaps what Pope Francis had in mind when he spoke of a specifically “spiritual” reform?
What are some of the current steps being taken as this reform takes place?
The next immediate step is to elect a new successor of Fra Matthew in just four weeks, so in a month. So that’s where we concentrate on at the moment, to prepare this election. But we have already started to collect, just to collect from the order, from the membership, where they see a need for reform. We are not yet evaluating them, we are just assembling them and sorting them, and after the election we will first decide how to structure the process, which steps we take to organize the process and then start discussing issues of reform. This will take some time because we have to do it in great transparency, and transparency means communication and time so that nobody can have the impression that something is cooked in a secret kitchen.
Part of what was also mentioned in the Pope’s letter was the need to re-visit specific parts of the order’s constitution. What are the parts that might need to be changed or revised in some way?