The Most Sacred Treasure

Statement of the Papal Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, regarding the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, November 15, 1988.

by His Excellency, Archbishop Renato R. Martino

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Mister Chairman,

In other committees and in the General Debate of the 43rd Assembly speakers have reviewed the events of a year full of hope and rich in promise – a year that saw the end to bloodshed in certain conflicts, significant progress toward ending others, and some thaw in even the longest-standing and most bitter international controversies.

Sadly, however, this spirit of peace has not affected the Middle East.

The Middle East is a region for which believers in the three monotheistic religions feel a strong kinship. As His Holiness Pope John Paul II said earlier this year to a group of Jewish representatives: “The matter of peace, especially in the Holy Land, in Israel, in Lebanon, in the Middle East, concerns us all intimately. These are the regions with which we have deep ties on a biblical, historical, religious, and cultural level” (Discourse to representatives of the Jewish community in Austria, June 24, 1988).

The Catholic Church has sought to express that kinship for the last 40 years by peaceful and constructive action, primarily through the Pontifical Mission for Palestine. This agency administers its own projects and coordinates the aid to Palestinians provided by other Catholic agencies in Europe and North America, such as Misereor, Missio, Caritas, Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, and others.

A greater part of the Catholic commitment to the Middle East is made through Church-run primary and secondary schools and the Bethlehem University, as well as through Church-sponsored libraries in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth. Other manifestations of the Church’s concern are its support for clinics serving mothers and babies, as well as institutions for the blind, the deaf, and for infants with birth defects. The Church’s presence is also felt in the various refugee camps.

The Church has always supported the work of UNRWA, both by seeking in practical ways, when feasible, to collaborate on joint projects and by making a symbolic pledge annually, a pledge which was increased last year and will be increased again this year.

While the Church has concentrated on offering spiritual, social, and material aid to those in the Middle East, it has not ignored the demands of all peoples in that region that their human and civil rights be respected.

Repeatedly the popes have reaffirmed the right of Israel to exist within secure, internationally recognized borders. They have condemned and deplored the unspeakable neo-paganism of the Nazi genocide. They have called on all peoples to recognize the terrible wrong of the Shoah and take a solemn oath that such an unspeakable crime never he allowed to happen again.

At the same time they have reaffirmed with equal insistence the right of another people, the Palestinian people, to their homeland as well.

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Tags: Refugees Middle East Unity United Nations Holy See