Frà Matthew Festing’s demise was a great blow for many. During the years 2008 to 2017 when he served as Grand Master of the Order of Malta, I had the pleasure and privilege of being close to him, especially in certain matters. I shall leave others to speak about his noble lineage, successes and titles. My view of Frà Matthew transcends all this.

He was an honest gentleman who was loved by many and wronged by some, who meanwhile bowed their heads and smiled profusely to him. He knew this well but he suffered in silence. He was conscious of this but he accepted the company of those who he knew were wronging him. A lesson for life which is perhaps too burdensome for my shoulders.

He accepted the company of those who he knew were wronging him. A lesson for life which is perhaps too burdensome for my shoulders

I loved his sense of humour. We shared some very good moments cracking jokes, some of which were changed to a code-word which we exchanged to refer to certain circumstances being experienced. His infectious smile will remain a constant memory. How can I forget his reaction whenever my wife, Helen, provided him with some home-made goodies which he loved and considered ‘non-transferable’!

I clearly recall one instance when Helen and I visited him when he was hospitalised in Rome. Even though his condition was not good, he retained his smile and joviality, though in his eyes I could discern suffering. He knew how to endure in silence.

Frà Matthew was forever close to the Lord through his prayers and contemplations, which he experienced with utmost humility and devotion. Such an unpretentious man! Such a lesson for those who have outgrown their real self in their own mind, leaving no room for anyone else.

I had known him before he was elected Grand Master. He was a great art connoisseur and once had attended a talk on Caravaggio, which I had delivered. When he became grand master, I went to Rome to meet him as the new head of the Order.

I recall that before leaving the hotel, I noticed that one button of my shirt was missing, but I did not have time to change the shirt, and in any case, my tie was hiding that empty buttonhole. He addressed me heartily with a smile as ‘Mr Caravaggio’ and as I sat down, I readily confessed I had one button missing. “Philip, I have three missing!” he laughed loudly, and he moved his tie gently to the side to demonstrate his three gaping empty buttonholes. How could I ever forget that!

Frà Matthew Festing is no more in body but his spiritual attributes, his humility, humour and humaneness will never dissipate.

Knowing Frà Matthew, he must have thanked the ones who wronged him for giving him the chance to love them and forgive them.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us