The Missouri Area has continued to serve the sick, despite the limitations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of its efforts are the continuation of long-standing commitments, some new endeavors.
The newest effort is the Malta Mobile Ministry. The idea for this ministry and its administrative structure come from the Western Association. In response to wildfires and other emergencies that showed the need many charities have for assistance in transportation, Knights and Dames organized to acquire and equip vans that can be put to a number of uses. The success of this effort inspired the American Association to invest in the same enterprise, and the Missouri Area was chosen as home for the Association’s first unit of the mobile ministry. The Missouri effort has built on the work done in California, which solved problems involving titling and insuring the vans and training and proving liability coverage for the drivers.
Nevertheless, a great deal of work remained before a van could be brought to St. Louis, Missouri. Money had to be found in addition to what the American Association provided. A secure parking place for the van had to be located. Volunteers had to be recruited. And local organizations that need transportation had to be informed that help was available and persuaded that that help would be dependable.
Thanks to the leadership of Greg and Kathy Gantz, the Area Co-Chairs, and of Randy Weber, the Mobile Ministry Missouri Director, all that has been accomplished. Before the end of 2020, a beautiful van was at its new home, and a number of drivers were trained and outfitted in appropriate work uniforms. (Special thanks must go to Genie and John Wilhelm, who maintain the van and re-stock van supplies, and to Mike Roth, who set up and maintains the van driver online scheduling system).
The Order of Malta in the days of Jean de Vallette must have been proud when a new galley was launched. And today’s Knights and Dames may be forgiven if they take the same pleasure in a new piece of equipment. But as in days past, we remember that our purpose is to defend the faith and serve Our Lords, the Sick and the Poor. So, after God’s blessed was called down upon our new enterprise, the van was put to use.
The blessing was pronounced, by the Archbishop of St. Louis, Mitchell T. Rozanski, who assumed leadership of the Archdiocese last August. At a Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Archbishop reminded members of the Order of the mission that they have accepted as Knights and Dames. After Mass, joined by our chaplain the Rev. Msgr. Vernon Gardin and the Rev. Msgr. Joseph Simon, he blessed the van and our new ministry.
During the first weeks of January, the new van was used several times to assist local charities, including the St. Vincent De Paul food bank and St. Louis Criminal Justice ministries.
The weekly runs for the St. Vincent De Paul food bank save that organization the cost of a rental van, provide it with a driver, and allow it not only to get a full load from Operation Food search, which supplies several local food banks, but also to make a trip to a local supermarket for items that are still fresh, but nearing their sell-by dates.
The van has also made runs for the St. Louis Criminal Justice Ministry, which helps ex-offenders re-enter society. Through these efforts, apartments have been furnished for one man who had just been released from prison and for another who had been homeless. (The Knights and Dames who volunteer as drivers are only expected to drive, but some have helped load and unload the van and even helped carry a mattress or two upstairs.)
It is still early days for Malta Mobile Ministries in Missouri. But those who helped plan and finance it, as well as the Knights and Dames who get to sit in the driver’s seat, can know that they have truly accomplished something. Thanks to the St. Vincent Paul food bank, more than 40 families have had food to put on the table. Thanks to Criminal Justice Ministries, men who otherwise would have had nowhere to lay their heads have had beds to sleep in. We have truly served the sick and the poor, and the truth is that we have had a splendid time doing it.
In the future, we look forward to working with other organizations.
The Missouri Area’s other service activities have not been neglected, though Knights, Dames and Auxiliary members devoted to them have faced challenges due to the pandemic. Those ministries include:
- Distributing the Holy Eucharist to the sick at a local hospital.
- Assembling hygiene kits for the poor. Such basic necessities are a great comfort both for the homeless and those newly arrived in a shelter or a new home.
- Reaching out to our own confrères who are ill themselves or quarantined by an illness in the family and offering a listening ear and/or assistance with grocery shopping.
- Working through local chapters of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to assist those in immediate need of food, rent, or utility assistance.
- Arranging and underwriting monthly dinners at the Rosati House development, which seeks to alleviate homelessness on a “housing first” model.
- Volunteering through other organizations, such as the VA, to alleviate the isolation with which many in the most vulnerable groups have been afflicted since the pandemic began.
- Continuing to support financially the Holy Family Hospital, Malteser International, and the Crudem Foundation and its hospital in Haiti.
In all their efforts, Knights, Dames, and Auxiliary members in the Missouri Area have been strengthened by their common prayer life. Despite the interruptions caused when the pandemic related restrictions were most severe, local members have continued to meet for a monthly rosary. And they gathered for mass in 2020 on the Feast Days of St. John the Baptist in June, Our Lady of Philermo in September, and the Immaculate Conception in December. We are looking forward to approaching the altar again on February 13th for the World Day of the Sick, when we will pray with Pope Francis that we will not be numbered among those who “preach but do not practice,” but will instead head our Lord’s call to us “to stop and listen, to establish a direct and personal relationship with others, to feel empathy and compassion, and to let their suffering become our own as we seek to serve them.*
* Pope Francis. “Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the XXIX World Day Of The Sick 2021.” http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/sick/documents/papa-francesco_20201220_giornata-malato.html.