Knights of Malta Celebrates 900th Birthday

    Members of the Knights of Malta walk in procession towards St. Peter's Basilica during a celebration to mark the 900th anniversary of the Order of the Knights of Malta, at the Vatican Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013. The order traces its history to the 11th century with the establishment of an infirmary in Jerusalem that cared for people of all faiths making pilgrimages to the Holy Land. It is the last of the great lay chivalrous military orders like the Knights Templars that combined religious fervor with fierce military might to protect and expand Christendom from Islam's advance during the Crusades. In February 1113, Pope Paschal II issued a papal bull recognizing the order as independent from bishops or secular authorities, reason for Saturday's anniversary celebrations at the Vatican. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

    Knights of Malta at the Vatican on Saturday. (Gregorio Borgia/AP)

    The Knights of Malta—an oft-misunderstood religious organization—celebrated its 900th birthday Saturday with a jubilant procession through St. Peter's Square. Both a Roman Catholic religious group and a service organization that runs soup kitchens and volunteer ambulances worldwide, the Knights are a sovereign entity that even print their own passports. More than 4,000 joined in the march to celebrate, many wearing the eight-point Maltese crown that represents the Knights. The order was founded in the 11th century by a monk in Jerusalem. Speaking in commemoration, Pope Benedict said the work of the order is more than just a dedication to religion but compassion for others. "[It] is not mere philanthropy but an effective expression and a living testimony of evangelical love."

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