The Pontifical Mission for Palestine has generated 40 years of inspiring stories of the Church at work in our time. Since 1949 it has responded in creative and appropriate ways to the most critical needs of displaced people in the conflict-ridden Middle East. It assists them without distinction of nationality or religion.
Pope Pius XII established this special mission to coordinate the Churchs relief aid to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian villagers left homeless by the violence which followed the partition of Palestine. The Pontifical Mission was operating in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt even before the United Nations relief effort could begin. Successive pontiffs have reaffirmed this mission.
The Pontifical Mission shows how the Church embodies the living Christ in the world. It serves peoples basic human needs with practical solutions to immediate and long-term problems.
It supports efforts of emergency relief by providing food, clothing, medical assistance, and temporary shelter to those in need. It offers care and rehabilitation by constructing, equipping, and maintaining homes, schools, clinics, and other facilities serving orphaned and needy children, the physically and mentally handicapped, the sick, the homeless, and the aged.
The agency also contributes to educational and human development programs to empower the poor and oppressed with knowledge, skills, and other means to achieve self-sufficiency. In its efforts, the Pontifical Mission collaborates with other agencies in assisting needy people of the region. An advocate of their interests, it raises public awareness of the needs and rights of Palestinians and neighboring people.
The Pontifical Mission is a special agency of the Holy See, administered from the New York office of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, under the direction of a president appointed by the Holy Father. It has regional offices in Beirut, Jerusalem, and Amman to oversee its field activity. The Mission has an international staff of Americans, Palestinians, Lebanese, Jordanians, and Europeans.
The 40th anniversary of the Pontifical Mission is an appropriate moment to mark its existence. In biblical tradition, 40 signifies a period of preparation adequate for reaching maturity. The last 40 years have been a time to prepare to meet the challenges of this moment, when the Palestinian intifadah and the crisis in Lebanon demand attention.
The Church has always been attentive to cries for justice. Its answer is that of Jesus: to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the afflicted, welcome the stranger, liberate the captive, and give hope to a world of despair. To the exile, it opens the doors to a spiritual home of respect, dignity, and love. The Pontifical Mission does Christs work in Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt.
The work of the Mission has been unfailing, imaginative, wide-ranging, and resourceful. Its efforts of service proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. That work is not yet done.
Michael Healy is editor of Catholic Near East.