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11 March 2016
Rev. Paul Wattson, S.A. (1863-1940). (photo: Graymoor Archives)
Over the next several months, as CNEWA marks its 90th anniversary, we’ll be spotlighting 90 people who made a profound difference in our world over these last 90 years — and it’s only fitting that we begin at the beginning.
The first of our “90 Years, 90 Heroes” profiles features CNEWA’s co-founder, the Rev. Paul Wattson, who also founded the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement. Father Paul died in 1940; this past fall, the Archdiocese of New York formally opened his cause for canonization.
As the Rev. Elias D. Mallon, himself a Friar of the Atonement, wrote at the time:
Father Paul regarded other churches not as heretics and enemies, competitors or targets for proselytization, but as friends and fellow travelers on the road to the unity Christ wished for his church. He saw it as his task to be the Lamp that helped them on this journey.
His attitude toward other churches and his concern for the poor brought Father Paul in increasing contact with the Christians of the Middle East and India. After World War I, the situation of Christians in the Middle East was dire. Genocide was the order of the day for Christians in the lands of the Middle East. Millions of Armenians and hundreds of thousands of Christians from other Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches were either slaughtered or driven out of their homes as refugees.
Father Paul and the Rev. George Calvassy (later a bishop) of the Greek Byzantine Catholic Church sought a way to alleviate the sufferings of all Christians in the Middle East. Their attempts took many different routes, some of them dead ends, but their efforts along with others resulted ultimately in the founding of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) in 1926. Pope Pius XI formally recognized CNEWA as a pontifical organization and placed it under the direction of the archbishop of New York.
The Eastern churches — Catholic and Orthodox — were dear to the heart of Father Paul. Many bishops from these churches visited Father Paul at Graymoor to ask his help and express their gratitude for any assistance they received.
Father Paul died on 8 February 1940. His pioneering work for Christian unity today might be considered ahead of its time, and even prophetic. He did not live to see the Second Vatican Council and its decree on Christian Unity; he did not see the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity become a world-wide event promulgated by both the Vatican and the World Council of Churches. But his prayers, vision and passion laid the groundwork for vastly improved relations between Catholics and Orthodox Christians, and helped CNEWA become a significant force for humanitarian and pastoral aid in a Middle East — a troubled land that is once again in our own day a place of genocide and exile.
Read more about Father Paul here. And for the full history of CNEWA, check out this link.