Pontifical Mission for Palestine
PONTIFICAL MISSION FOR PALESTINE
Founded by Pope Pius XII for the care of Palestinian refugees, presently the Holy See's relief and development agency for the entire Middle East. In the aftermath of the first Arab-Israeli wars, Pope Pius XII was concerned about the plight of more than one million Palestinians displaced or impoverished by the hostilities. He unified the Holy See's humanitarian and charitable assistance into one pontifical agency and appointed as its President the Secretary of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
On June 18, 1949, Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches, announced the erection of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine and outlined its competence: "…it has been decided 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."
Immediately a headquarters office was opened in Beirut, Lebanon and, following that, a local office in Jerusalem. Seven local emergency aid committees involving papal representatives, hierarchy, clergy, laity and charitable agencies were organized for Arab Palestine, Egypt, Gaza, Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Transjordan, and field staff were recruited.
In the years that followed, the Pontifical Mission not only distributed many tons of food, clothing, medical supplies, temporary shelters and cooking equipment to the newly dispossessed, but also constructed homes for those who had lost their own. An outstanding achievement of the Pontifical Mission was its encouragement and endowment of training and educational programs to enable the refugees to help themselves through newly acquired skills and trades and to accede to literacy and higher schooling.
With the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, the Pontifical Mission moved from assisting displaced and refugee Palestinians to responding to the needs of an entire civilian population living under martial law. Besides supporting the humanitarian activities of the local churches, the Mission began to establish and subsidize social service institutions, including schools, libraries, hospitals and orphanages.
The new influx of Palestinian refugees into the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan prompted the Mission to open an office in the capital city of Amman to provide the poor and the refugee—Jordanian and Palestinian—with medical care, employment assistance and other social services. After the Gulf War in 1991, the Pontifical Mission also offered emergency assistance to Iraqi refugees seeking refuge in Jordan.
On the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine in 1974, Pope Paul VI gave new impetus and new dimensions to its work:
Our Mission for Palestine is thus about to be faced with a compelling task. In addition to continuing its assistance, without distinction of nationality or religion, to those who have suffered or are suffering in any way as a result of repeated conflicts which have devastated that region, the Mission will now have to expect, in the situation which is now evolving, to contribute to projects of aid, of rehabilitation and of development for the population of Palestine.
With the increase of civil strife in Lebanon in 1975, the beneficiaries of the Pontifical Mission there were no longer only Palestinian refugees, but Lebanese themselves too. After the cessation of hostilities in 1991, the Pontifical Mission launched—in addition to its substantial program of institutional support—a regional village rehabilitation and resettlement project.
The start of the Palestinian intifada, or uprising, in 1987 offered new challenges, as the Pontifical Mission aided grassroots organizations, providing medical assistance, agricultural aid, legal advocacy and other vital services.
Because of its modest administrative structure, its non-governmental nature and the confidence it enjoys among the local churches, the Pontifical Mission is able to act quickly, expeditiously and effectively to alleviate human suffering and aid human development. It concentrates especially on trying to meet those needs that are either too limited to be addressed by larger agencies or which fall outside of their funding guidelines.
The following have served as President of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine: Monsignor Thomas J. McMahon (1949–55); Monsignor Peter P. Tuohy (1955–60); Monsignor Joseph T. Ryan (1960–66); Monsignor John G. Nolan (1966–87); and Monsignor Robert L. Stern (1987–).
[m. j. l. la civita]