In 1798, after the Order left the Isle of Malta and most of its military might, the Order adapted to circumstances and turned primarily to its original Hospitaller character.
The Order of Malta, headquartered in Rome, is a sovereign subject of international law, with its own constitution, passports, stamps, and public institutions.
The Order has diplomatic relations with 99 countries – many of which are non-Catholic – and missions to major European countries, as well as to European and international organizations. It is granted the status of Permanent Observer in many international organizations, such as the United Nations
In 2008, the (79th) Grand Master, Fra’ Matthew Festing, was elected Head of the Order for life. His Most Eminent Highness the Prince and Grand Master governs the Order both as Sovereign and religious head.
The Order is organized into 47 National Associations in the five continents. The first National Association was founded in 1859 in Rhineland-Westphalia (Germany). The next was formed in 1867 in Silesia (Poland) and the third in Britain in 1875.
Several National Associations have established uniformed service corps trained not only to aid victims of natural disasters, but also to serve in combat area, under the protection of the Geneva Convention. The main ambulance service in Germany, Italy, Austria and Ireland are operated by the Order of Malta. Malteser International, founded in 1953 in Germany, is one of the largest relief and rescue operations in the world.
Its members founded innumerable institutions to help the sick. They also served the wounded in military campaigns in Europe and in the colonies and in both World Wars. In some ways, the Order can be regarded as the forerunner of the International Red Cross.
In 1926, the American Association, USA was founded in New York City and now has 1800 members.
The works and ministries of the Association (including its International works) can be viewed at www.maltausa.org.
In 1953, the Western Association, US was founded in California.
In 1974, the Federal Association, USA was founded in Washington, DC.
The American Association, USA is organized into 29 Area Chairs.
Four of the Areas are in Florida: