Cardinal Dolan Marks 75 Years of Pontifical Mission

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan commemorated the 75th anniversary of Pontifical Mission for Palestine with a Mass at the Church of the Annunciation in Beit Jala in the West Bank on 14 April.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan marked the 75th anniversary of Pontifical Mission for Palestine with a Mass of thanksgiving at the Church of the Annunciation in Beit Jala in the West Bank on 14 April, and then visited with Palestinians at Aida refugee camp, about a mile north of Bethlehem.

The camp, located on less than half a square mile between Bethlehem and Beit Jala, is home to 6,000 refugees whose families were displaced from 28 villages in the western Jerusalem and western Hebron areas.  Established in 1950, it is one of three refugee camps in the Bethlehem area and is surrounded by the Israeli separation wall and military towers.

The cardinal, who is archbishop of New York and chairman of the CNEWA board, was warmly received by camp leaders and welcomed by Mohammed Taha, governor of Bethlehem, and Said al-Azzah, head of the local camp committee.

Pontifical Mission has provided programming for youth of the camp.

Al-Azzah noted that Pontifical Mission has been supporting Palestinian refugees since the beginning of the “Nakba,” which refers to the mass displacement and dispossession of at least 750,000 Palestinian Arabs during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, which followed the creation of the State of Israel.

He said 30 percent of the camp population lives below the poverty line, and the usual 40 percent unemployment rate has skyrocketed to 90 percent since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas on 7 October. After the Hamas attack that day on agricultural communities in southern Israel, Israel closed the border to workers from the West Bank.

Amid this difficulty, al-Azzah said he wanted to highlight the role of Pontifical Mission in supporting refugees.

“Pontifical Mission witnessed the emergence of the refugee issue and the Nakba and it was one of the first international organizations that stood beside the refugees even before UNRWA was established,” he said. “It played a distinguished role in providing relief to the refugees, preserving their dignity and calling for justice for them according to the law.”

Cardinal Dolan said he was overjoyed to hear how the the work of Pontifical Mission is appreciated.

“We are here to thank God and to thank our many supporters for 75 years of Pontifical Mission in Palestine,” the cardinal said. “I was so thrilled, so happy to hear our two speakers say that from the beginning the Holy See has been in strong support and advocacy of the Palestinian refugees.”

This is especially important he said, because when he and Msgr. Peter I. Vaccari, CNEWA president, return to the United States from their Holy Land visit, they will be asked whether the work of Pontifical Mission is known among the people and if it has had a real and positive impact on people’s lives.

“And now I can tell them about this meeting,” he said.

Judith Sudilovsky is an an award-winning Jerusalem-based journalist covering Israel and Palestine.

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