Msgr. McMahon and Msgr. O’Connell visiting a Gaza refugee camp in January. (photo: CNEWA files)
Palestinian refugees in a camp in Jordan. (photo: courtesy of UNRWA)
Every day of those four months among the Palestinian refugees was filled with sorrowful thoughts and even more sorrowful sights. From the day we landed at Haifa and began our treks through mud and snow in Israel, Arab Palestine, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt, our pilgrims progress was beset with tears. Twelve years before we had accomplished the same journey, but then it was a holy pilgrimage to the sacred shrines of Our Lords blessed life on earth. Now bombs and bullets had marred even those. Yesteryear we had gone among a happy and contented people, now we found them herded together in terror or set down in some bleak, inhospitable place, all too far from home.
Still there was a special gratification filling our hearts, for we felt that, while we were tramping through all conditions of weather, living in every type of dwelling, some of them bombed out, and sharing in many cases in the meager fare of the refugees themselves, we were helping to prove to them that the Church is merely Jesus Christ poured out and communicated to men. No priest could look on thousands of people in tents, no priest could look into the hollow, hopeless eyes of his suffering fellow human beings and not remember that he is expected to be a father of the poor and a lover of his brethren
Many thousands of little refugee kiddies are being safely sheltered in our schools and orphanages. One day we stood among four hundred of these. They had all fled miles on foot. The eyes of one little child of five still held terror On another day, far off on the plains of Southern Syria, with the coldest winds whistling over those treeless stretches, we knelt in a former Catholic school building and tried to help to eternity a dying man, who had come to his journeys end, starved and exhausted, after a three hundred mile walk from the home in which he had been born. It was the same story all over. We could hardly bear those daily sights of poor people struggling along roads, with a few treasured family possessions. We knew that a heavy rain would spell death for the little babes or the beginning of an epidemic for all. Some of the babes would be placed at the doorstep of a convent or a foundling hospital, and Mother Church would repeat her age-old story of tender and loving care. Catholic doctors and nurses, even students in the medical schools as well as young men and women of the towns, were going out to those helpless, disease-ridden masses of humanity in the crowded tent cities to help them. Those little dispensaries in the Sisters convents and those Catholic hospitals in the towns were the mecca for others. Everywhere the Church was in evidence, everywhere these homeless poor were having the gospel preached to them
It is a lesson to the world that Palestine is a microcosm, the crossroads of the world, the capital of three religions, whose rights make it imperative that that Land can never be exclusionist and that no solution can be lasting, if it obscures these indigenous rights
Msgr. Thomas J. McMahon is the Pontifical Mission’s first president.