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Friday February 8, 2008

Grand master of Knights of Malta, Fra Andrew Bertie, dies at 78

MYT 8:25:42 PM

ROME (AP) - Fra Andrew Bertie, a descendant of Britain's royal Stuart family who was grand master of the Knights of Malta, has died, the ancient lay Roman Catholic order said Friday. He was 78. 

Bertie, who was the 78th grand master of the 900-year-old charitable order, died Thursday in a Rome clinic, the group said in a statement. No information on the cause of death was given. 

Bertie was elected to lead the order in a secret conclave in 1988. He is credited with modernizing the group's humanitarian programs, increasing membership and extending its reach in troubled and far-flung regions, the statement said. 

Officially known as the Sovereign Military Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, the group was founded with a pilgrims' hospice in 11th century Jerusalem and has the status of an independent state. It maintains diplomatic relations with 100 nations, increased from 49 at the start of Bertie's tenure. 

The Knights of Malta has 12,500 members and operates in 120 countries, providing medical and social services, particularly in war zones and impoverished areas. 

The grand commander of the order, Fra Giacomo della Torre, was sworn in as interim head of the group until a new grand master is elected, the statement said. 

Elected for life, the grand master carries the title of prince and the position is equal in rank to a cardinal. The grand master must have 200 years of nobility on both parents' sides and must have followed vows of poverty, obedience and chastity. 

Bertie's father, James, worked as foreign exchange dealer at the stock exchange in London. 

His mother, Lady Jean Crichton-Stuart, was a descendant of the Stuarts, the ruling family of Scotland from 1371-1603 and of England and Scotland from 1603-1714, with an 11-year interruption in the 17th century. 

Born in London in 1929, Bertie joined the knights in 1956 and took his vows in 1981.  

He had also worked as a financial journalist and a language teacher. 

His body was to lie in state starting Friday afternoon in a Rome church on the Aventine hill. Information on survivors and funeral arrangements was not immediately available.-AP