The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, informally known as the Order of Malta, is a Catholic religious order which dates to the 11th century. It was founded by merchants from Amalfi (in modern day Italy) who, inspired by John the Baptist, ran a hospice providing care and shelter to pilgrims visiting Jerusalem. Until 1798, most of its members, who generally came from noble families, were religious and took three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; today the majority of its 12,500 members are lay men and women.
The order works in the field of medical/social care and humanitarian aid in more than 120 countries, including the United States. Because of certain political events in its long history, the order is an independent subject of international law, which allows it to maintain bilateral diplomatic relations with sovereign nations and gives it permanent observer status at the United Nations as a neutral, impartial and non-political body. Membership in the Order of Malta is by invitation only, but many thousands of volunteers make their worldwide humanitarian projects possible. For more information, visit www.orderofmalta.org/english.