Sister Christina Fealey, FMDM, visits with women of the Palestinian refugee camp outside Marka in Jordan. (photo: Sr. Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
The hearing-impaired Palestinian children of the West Bank and Gaza receive care and training at the Paul VI Ephpheta Institute in Bethlehem. (photo: Sr. Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
A child gets an ear examination at the Greek Catholic Clinic in Jerusalem. (photo: Sr. Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
An Arab bears a heavy load through Jerusalem’s Old City. (photo: Gerald Ring)
The survival of the Christian community in the Holy Land has always been a fervent concern of the universal Church. In 1974, Pope Paul VI said the Holy Land is also a country which, besides the Shrines and Holy Places, a Church a community of believers in Christ lives and works.
The Holy Father emphasized the ongoing concern for this community of the faithful: Were their presence to cease, the Shrines would be without the warmth of this living witness and the Christian Holy Places of Jerusalem and the Holy Land would become like museums.
The Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) serves the Christian community which originated in the Holy Land some two thousand years ago. In collaboration with its sister organization, the Pontifical Mission for Palestine (PMP), CNEWA has supported that community, and persons of other faiths as well, since 1926. Their humanitarian work extends far beyond the members of the Catholic Church. CNEWA and PMP serve without regard to race or creed.
The Catholic Church in the Holy Land has hundreds of priests, brothers, sisters, and lay persons working full time. Most of them are Palestinians. They know what help is needed and, with CNEWA support, do their best to provide it.
Through PMPs Jerusalem office, for example, 820 Americans take care of some 820 needy children, Muslims and Christians. Some of them are orphans; all of them are in need. Not far from Jesus birthplace, Bethlehem University also serves the local community. There, young Palestinian women and men acquire skills which will let them stay in the land of their own births and raise their families in dignity. The university is sponsored by the Vatican with major help from CNEWA.
PMP supports a wide range of programs in the Holy Land. Christian libraries in Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem provide children with reading materials and a quiet place to do their homework. Special programs for the handicapped operate under the auspices of PMP throughout the Holy Land. In Gaza is a school for the blind. At the Paul VI Ephpheta Institute in Bethlehem, deaf children receive speech therapy and vocational training. In Haifa 60 children with severe birth defects receive care which they would get nowhere else.
The PMP also gives financial grants to programs and projects conducted by local groups. In 1986, for instance, CNEWA provided microcomputers for elementary and high school students. At the same time, we also provided donkeys for farmers who needed them. In 1987 we were able to provide emergency assistance to afflicted farmers in the Jordan valley.
Humanitarian activities in the Holy Land become even more urgent in light of the areas political problems. Over two million people have been uprooted and displaced over more than 40 years of conflict. Here, too, supported by CNEWA and other charitable organizations, the Pontifical Mission has sponsored relief programs for needy people in Jordan and Lebanon, where many displaced Palestinians live.
Through the PMP office in Amman, 3205 needy children are being sponsored and receive financial support from Americans of all faiths. Clinics for mothers and their infants in Marka and Zerqa have brought health care to those in need. Refugee children in the Baqaa camp are still taught in classrooms donated by the PMP. A professionally staffed library in Amman provides books and other materials free to all. Catholic sisters from Belgium and France live in the slums and care for their neighbors.
In Lebanon hundreds of thousands more suffer from war. The Pontifical Mission office in Beirut is actively involved in their care. In the Dbayeh camp for refugees, for instance, needy children are helped through sponsorship. The entire camp benefits from health care and social services established and supported by PMP. Our programs even give children the opportunity to experience a less threatening environment through special summer camps.
The PMP office in Beirut also recommends and coordinates grants and projects from other charitable organizations which supply generous support for those suffering in Lebanon.
There is need for greater involvement to respond to the many pressing needs for health care, nutrition, housing, and education in Lebanon. But there are difficulties, of course. Places where the Pontifical Mission has served have been blown up in the relentless struggles plaguing that land. While the political problems in Lebanon remain unresolved, the people who serve there live and work in peril.
Clearly, as long as war and political instability afflict the area, there will be a need for organizations such as CNEWA and the Pontifical Mission and for people to support them through their prayers and their financial generosity.
The central concern linking the work of CNEWA and PMP in Lebanon, Israel, the occupied territories, and Jordan is the future of Palestine. The displacement of Palestinians, which began more than 40 years ago, has left a legacy of problems for people throughout this region. The squalid refugee camps of Jordan, Lebanon, Gaza, and the West Bank starkly testify to the need for a just solution.
When Cardinal John OConnor, president of CNEWA, returned from his 1986 trip to Lebanon, he echoed the Vaticans call for a homeland for the Palestinians. When he returned to that area that December. the cardinal said, If we ignore the rights of Palestinians to self-determination, and ignore the Palestinians in the refugee camps, then we have ignored the real issue at stake.
In working for the welfare of the Palestinians and others, CNEWA and PMP are well aware of what world leaders have said concerning these problems. We are aware also that history may bind the hands of these leaders who want to work out solutions. Hence, CNEWA and PMP try through relief and development to maintain the presence and vitality of the local Palestinian communities, whether this occurs in the refugee camp, town, and village, in the school, or in the parish centers. This work will continue until peace with justice is achieved.
Since 1949, an estimated $200 million of material aid has been given by Catholic Near East Welfare Association and the Pontifical Mission to help the needy in this area. Most of these resources have been used for relief and to assist in the restoration of structures destroyed by war. If there were peace in the region, these resources could be applied to development.
When our services will no longer be needed the day of peace with justice, for which all of us must work and pray that day will be one of great rejoicing for those in need who now suffer as well as for those who serve them.
Brother Austin David is Assistant to the Secretary General of CNEWA in New York.