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The Pontifical Mission – for Palestine?

by Msgr. Robert L. Stern

“Why doesn’t the Vatican recognize the State of Israel?” many ask, especially Jews. Hardly ever asked, but in the same category is, “Why doesn’t the Vatican recognize the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan?” And now there’s another possibility, “Why doesn’t the Vatican recognize the newly proclaimed Palestinian State?”

They’re really all political questions. Technically, they concern the mutual exchange of ambassadors. That the Holy See has diplomatic relations with sovereign nations goes back centuries – to a time when the pope was not only a temporal ruler in his own right, but was considered supreme over all the rulers of Christendom.

The United States re-established full diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1984 after a lapse of 117 years. For over a century the Holy See didn’t recognize the United States!

But, what the Holy See never fails to recognize are people, especially those suffering and afflicted.

In 1949 Pope Pius XII recognized the special needs of people in the Middle East, victims of discrimination, violence, and war. He established the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, a mission of compassion, concern, and relief for the people of Palestine and neighboring areas – i.e. for Arab Palestine (Gaza and the “West Bank”), Israel, and Transjordan, and for Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria.

This Pontifical Mission was to express and translate into action the charity of the pope and of the church of the West for their sisters and brothers in need in the Middle East.

Who are these brothers and sisters?
– Arab Catholics? Yes, Armenians, Chaldeans, Copts, Ethiopians, Latins, Melkites, Maronites, and Syrians.
– Other Arab Christians? Yes, Orthodox and Protestant.
– Muslims? Yes, Sunni and Shi’ite.
– Druze? Yes.
– Jews? Yes, Ashkenazim and Sephardim.
– Those with no religious profession? Yes, believers, agnostics, atheists, all.

The greatest number of beneficiaries of the Pontifical Mission over the years has been Muslim. Why? Because the greatest number of people in need happened to be Muslim. If there were mostly Jews in need, the Pontifical Mission would be helping mostly Jews.

It was that Greek-speaking Orthodox rabbi from Cilicia, Paul the apostle, writing to early followers of Jesus in Asia Minor who said “There does not exist among you Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus.” Charity and love know no ethnic or national bounds.

We help where we can: Amman, Bethlehem, Beirut, Gaza, Haifa, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Tyre, Zerqa.

Please God, the Pontifical Mission will continue to serve all the peoples of the Middle East and to support them in their quest for food and shelter, health care and education, dignity and security, justice and peace.

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Msgr. Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA



Tags: Middle East Unity Holy See