Dr. Juan Asensio wears the traditional Knights of Malta robe. The order identifies people all over the world who have performed humanitarian service, physicians who have served humanity “above and beyond the call” and those who have previous military experience.
The words “Knights of Malta” may conjure up visions of military orders and the Middle Ages.
To Juan A. Asensio, MD, FACS, FCCM, FRCS (England), KM, becoming a Knight of Malta is a present day honor that few – only about 8,000 of the seven billion people in the entire world – ever achieve.
The trauma surgeon is very reluctant to talk about his recent formal investiture, a ceremony at which the honor was formally conferred, at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City last November. He went through formal investiture in the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and Malta.
The Order of Malta is the only remaining military order from the Crusades that is still active today and dates back more than 900 years. Members assist the young, elderly, handicapped, refugeed, homeless and those with terminal illness and leprosy all over the world, regardless of race or religion. Through its worldwide relief corps – Malteser International – the order also reaches out to victims of natural disasters, epidemics and armed conflicts. It has a longstanding history of operating hospitals and tending to the wounded. The order was present in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnamese War.
“I am humbled by this,” said Dr. Asensio, who directs the Comprehensive Level I Trauma Center at CHI Health Creighton University Medical Center. “It is such an honor.” Dr. Asensio is also a professor of surgery at the Creighton University School of Medicine, chief of the Division of Trauma Surgery and Surgical Critical Care, as well as director of the trauma center and trauma program.
According to the order’s website, “All Knights of Malta must meet the traditional requirement for the bestowing of knighthood: they must distinguish themselves for special virtues.”
“Battles are no longer fought with swords,” it continues, “but with the peaceful tools of the fight against disease, poverty, social isolation and intolerance, as well as witnessing and protecting the faith.” The order’s motto is: “Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum” or “In Defense of the Faith and Service to the Poor.”
In the order’s early days, the Knights were well-known for their military prowess; they became known as the Knights of Malta after 800 knights and 1,200 soldiers defeated over 50,000 soldiers from the Ottoman Empire in 1565 in six months of combat. Today, the order is still considered the “Army of the Pope.”
Despite their name, the Knights haven’t engaged in any battles or military conflicts since 1798, when Napoleon captured Malta. The order returned to its charitable roots by sponsoring medical missions in more than 120 countries. It has embassies in 105 countries and a sitting ambassador at the United Nations, who advocates for human rights.
Membership is by invitation only. The order identifies people all over the world who have performed humanitarian service, physicians who have served humanity “above and beyond the call” and those who have previous military experience. Admissions criteria include being an active and practicing Catholic who has a record of service to the Church and to Catholic-related causes by lending professional expertise and “hands on” volunteer service to the poor.