Pontifical Mission for Palestine Commemorates 50th Anniversary

              The Pontifical Mission for Palestine, the papal agency that for decades has provided humanitarian support for the Palestine refugees and others in distress and need throughout the Middle East, commemorated its 50th anniversary in October 1999.  Pope Pius XII established the Pontifical Mission for Palestine in 1949 in direct response to the tragedy of the Palestine refugees in the aftermath of the war in 1948.

 What began as a temporary agency of the Holy See to provide the unfortunate and beleaguered Palestine refugees with food, clothing, shelter, and education became a permanent expression of the Vatican’s concern for the well being of Christians and Muslims in the region.  In later years, the Mission’s expanded beyond emergency assistance to include rehabilitation and human development.  The Pontifical Mission for Palestine is the operating agency in the Middle East of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), which is another papal agency. 

Since its establishment, the Pontifical Mission for Palestine has been integral in coordinating the relief and assistance efforts of countless Catholic charities and organizations, and its work has been extremely invaluable and a lasting symbol of the Pope’s commitment to the purpose of the Mission. As noted by Pope Paul VI in 1974, twenty-five years after its establishment, the Mission represented “one of the clearest signs of the Holy See’s concern for the welfare of Palestinians, who are particularly dear to us because they are the people of the Holy Land, because they include followers of Christ, and because they have been and are still being so tragically tried.”  At the same time, he reaffirmed “heartfelt sharing in their sufferings and our support for their legitimate aspirations.”  This relationship that developed between the Pontifical Mission and the Palestinian people continues to be a mutually, cherished one.

 The Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the U.N. participated in the celebrations organized by the Pontifical Mission for Palestine on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.  Among the scheduled events, the main celebration was a commemorative meeting held at U.N. headquarters on 25 October 1999. The celebration, which included performances by the Palestinian musical group Al-Baraem and which was followed by a reception, was very well attended, reflective of the extensive support for the important work of the Pontifical Mission.   In addition to the Keynote Speaker, H.E. Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Secretary for Relations with States of the Secretariat of the Holy See, the many speakers that participated in that celebration included the following (in order of their participation in the program):

 Sir Kieran Prendergast, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs of the U.N.; H.E. Archbishop Renato R. Martino, Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the U.N.; Monsignor Robert L. Stern, President of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine; Mr. William F. Lee, Chief of the New York Liaison Office of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA); H.E. Mr. Ibra Deguene Ka, Permanent Representative of Senegal to the U.N. and Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, H.E. Mr. Hassan Abu-Nimah, Permanent Representative of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the U.N.; H.E. Mr. Selim Tadmoury, Permanent Representative of Lebanon to the U.N; H.E. Dr. M. Nasser Al-Kidwa, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the U.N.

 In his statement, in addition to conveying the deepest gratitude and appreciation of the Palestinian people for all of the tireless humanitarian efforts exerted by the Pontifical Mission for Palestine for a half a century, Ambassador Al-Kidwa, expressed the following to the participants in the meeting:  

 The Pontifical Mission has done an extremely valuable job, not only in the field of emergency assistance, but also at a later stage in the form of rehabilitation, education and human development.  At present, I would specifically refer to the housing renovation program in Jerusalem carried out by the Pontifical Mission’s Jerusalem Office, which is located in the Old City, and I would also like to refer to Bethlehem University, a Pontifical Mission-supported institution, which was founded in 1973.”