CNEWA has aided the peoples of the Holy Land since Pope Pius XI established it in 1926. With the mass exodus of Palestinians following the first Arab Israeli war in 1948 — more than 20 percent of whom were Christian —  that assistance intensified when Pope Pius XII founded the Pontifical Mission for Palestine in 1949 and placed its administration and direction under CNEWA. Created as a temporary relief committee to coordinate worldwide Catholic relief to the refugees, subsequent popes have extended the mandate of the Pontifical Mission to include assistance to all vulnerable peoples throughout the Middle East.

After the Six-Day war in 1967, the Israeli military occupied the Palestinian territories of the Gaza Strip, West Bank and Jerusalem, including the Old City. Since the 1990s, there have been agreements between the State of Israel and official representatives of the Palestinian people, now known as the Palestinian Authority, to work toward a “Two-State Solution,” that is, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, but those agreements have eroded.

Hamas, a militant Islamic group, has ruled Gaza since elections brought it to power in 2007. The West Bank, divided into 165 Palestinian enclaves, is under the partial administration of the Palestinian Authority. Yet the majority of the West Bank, including 200 Israeli settlements, is under Israeli military control. 

Christian-based organizations within these territories, which provide more than 33 percent of all social services to the Palestinian people, do not receive government funding and thus face chronic financial challenges; these initiatives are heavily dependent on international donors to fund facilities and equipment, programs and operating costs. 

The Christian population continues to decline as Christians leave frustrated by socioeconomic and political instability. 

Today, the needs of the Palestinian people amid the current conflict between Israel and Hamas are immense. More than 30,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been killed by the Israeli Defense Forces in response to the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel on 7 October 2023. 

Emergency Response

Since the war began, CNEWA-Pontifical Mission has coordinated with partners on the ground in Gaza to distribute hot meals, food packages, medicines, hygiene kits, diapers, fuel, cooking gas, bottled water and cleaning supplies to those in need. 

Between October 2023 and February 2024, a donation made by CNEWA-Pontifical Mission provided hot meals to 760 displaced Christians sheltering at two churches in Gaza City — St. Porphyrios and Holy Family — as well as those in the vicinity and other neighborhoods in the city.

In coordination with a local communal food kitchen, CNEWA-Pontifical Mission has reached half of the 600 displaced families it anticipates serving in Gaza City and Rafah between March and April with food aid. 

a woman holds up a white sign that reads "Pace". There are people standing near her, including a nun.
A woman holds up a sign that say “Pace,” peace in Italian, as Pope Francis appeals for an end to the fighting between Israel and Palestine after reciting the Angelus prayer, 8 October, with visitors in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/Vatican Media)

Accompanying the Church

CNEWA-Pontifical Mission’s office in Jerusalem is focused on developing lay leadership through various programs, including the local Scout movement, Christian youth centers and catechism programs. The programs are crucial to ensure the Christian presence in the Holy Land and to prepare future leadership for the Christian organizations that provide employment and essential services, such as education and health care, for the general population.  

CNEWA-Pontifical Mission also funds repairs to church facilities and supports catechetical formation, pastoral care programs, pastoral youth initiatives and Bible camps.

Sister Piera Carpenedo of the Sisters of St. Dorothy tells a story to her hearing-impaired students at the Ephpheta Institute in Bethlehem, just one institution CNEWA is proud to support through the generosity of our donors. (photo: Steve Sabella)

Responding to Human Needs

CNEWA-Pontifical Mission supports a network of Christian organizations that offer education, health care and social services, having funded the installation of solar panels to reduce energy costs, the rehabilitation of an existing rainwater cistern to provide a clean and free water supply, and the installation of hydroponic systems to produce organic vegetables as alternative food sources. In addition to reducing operating costs, these programs respond to our Christian call to care for creation.

CNEWA-Pontifical Mission also supports an educational counseling program for 10th graders from Jerusalem-area Christian schools, which helps them identify their interests and abilities, build their skills and determine their career path. The program is offered in collaboration with CEGAS, the Committee for Educational Guidance for Arab Students, in Haifa.

Summer camp session for young adult Christians near Ramallah, Palestine. (photo: George Jaraiseh)

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