It was around April 1986. At the time, Msgr. John G. Nolan, Secretary General of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, was President of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine. I was his special assistant.
He asked me to brief Sister Maureen Grady, C.S.C., who was about to take over the position of director of the Pontifical Missions Beirut office.
Professionally, Sister Maureen was a registered nurse and pastoral health care educator. She was used to precision and definition in her work.
May I have a copy of my job description? she asked.
Your job is Director of the Beirut office, I told her.
Yes, she replied, I understand that, but dont you have a detailed listing of the principal responsibilities of the position?
No, I replied, but we can draw one up. And we did.
Then Sister Maureen asked for the organizations Mission Statement. I told her that we didnt have that either, but I suggested that her first task in her new position could be to help me create it.
Create is not the right word, for it means to make something out of nothing. Actually what we did was to extract the needed statement from documents of the Holy See relating to the foundation and work of the Pontifical Mission.
Our starting point was the decision of Pope Pius XII in 1949 to bring together under the Pontifical Mission, operating in the Holy Land, all those organizations and associations which are engaged in activities concerning the East, and which are scattered throughout many countries of Europe and other continents.
Naturally, the first item in our draft was the work of the Mission in providing emergency help and relief to Palestinian refugees, without regard to creed.
As the problems of the Holy Land and the Palestinians continued without resolution, the Pontifical Missions work became more institutionalized and embraced support of social service institutions and rehabilitation of homes.
On its 25th anniversary in 1974, Pope Paul VI had urged the Pontifical Mission to continue its work without distinction of nationality, extending its mandate to all those who suffer in the Middle East.
Optimistically, he felt that the time of relief and rehabilitation was near its end. The Mission could now concentrate on projects of human development. Of course, it did not become a matter of one or the other but of both.
We concluded by describing the mission of the Mission as fivefold:
1. Emergency assistance and relief
2. Care and rehabilitation
3. Education and human development
4. Collaboration and service to other agencies
5. Advocacy and public awareness
Its 50 years later. The needs are still there. The Pontifical Mission continues. The love that drives it does too.
Msgr. Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA