Yesterday, the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta (SMOM), the oldest surviving crusading order, celebrated the 900th Anniversary of its receipt of the Papal Bull, “Pie postulatio voluntatis,” from Pope Paschal II which approved the founding of a hospital in Jerusalem, and recognized the foundation as a religious order under Papal Authority, free to elect its own superiors, and immune to all other secular and religious authority.
Some 4500 knights of the Order from countries all over the world marched in procession and attended a Papal mass in the Basilica of St. Peter.
Membership in the Order has been a coveted distinction for centuries. Such famous Americans as the late CIA Director William Casey and the late conservative writer William F. Buckley Jr. were knights of Malta.
The Order once enjoyed sovereignty of the islands of Rhodes and Malta in the Mediterranean. Although the Order is still recognized today as a sovereign entity, issues its own postage stamps and passports, and has diplomatic relations more than 100 countries, its territoriality is currently restricted to two buildings in Rome.
The Order of St. John is most famous historically for the heroic defense of the island of Malta by 500 knights assisted by a few thousand Spanish and Maltese auxiliaries against nearly 50,000 Turks in 1565.
NPR news story.