For some years now I've been fascinated by the Knights of Malta, also known as the Sovereign Military Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta. Founded in the 11th century, it is at once a Catholic order and a sovereign subject of international law. At one time the Knights were the first line of the defence of Europe against the Ottoman Turks, but now their military function has been entirely supplanted by their charitable role. Until the end of the 18th century the Knights held Malta as their sovereign territory, but since that time they have been a kind of stateless state, or a state without territory. The Knights have diplomatic relations with a number of mostly Catholic states around the world.
According to this report from the Vatican's Zenit news service, today the Pope met with the Knights' Grand Master Fra Andrew Bertie. Although the report does not specifically mention the reason for the meeting, it probably had something to do with today being the feast day of St. John the Baptist, the order's patron.