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On 18 June 1949, Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Church, published an Instruction announcing that the Holy Father had erected a Pontifical Mission for Palestine and outlined its competence: “ 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.”

Later, Pope Pius named Canon Jules Creten, rector of the archdiocesan seminary of Malines, as secretary of the mission, and he approved the nomination of Father Raphael Kratzer, O.F.M., as assistant to the president. The field headquarters of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine was established in Beirut. Later, offices were established in Jerusalem and in Amman.

Early organization and operations
Seven local Pontifical Mission for Palestine committees involving the papal representative, hierarchy, clergy, laity and charitable agencies were organized for Arab Palestine (West Jordan), Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, East Jordan, Israel and Gaza. Additionally, further central administrative and field staff was recruited.

The mission began to function as the liaison of the Holy See with the agencies of the United Nations and expanded the services of Catholic personnel to the same. It also served as liaison with the other voluntary agencies working in the area.

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.

Pope Paul VI’s concern
In October 1963, a few months after his election to the papacy, Paul VI, expressing his personal appreciation of and identification with the work of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, wrote to its president that “We esteem highly the efforts and admirable achievements of that Mission, which we helped establish....” He exhorted relief agencies everywhere to collaborate with the mission, addressing in particular Catholic Relief Services, the Custody of the Holy Land and the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

Pope Paul VI went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land in January 1964. His vivid and personal experiences there prompted him to call for new, important and creative initiatives on behalf of Palestinians and the church in Palestine. On 25 March 1974 in the encyclical letter on the increased needs of the church in the Holy Land, Nobis in animo, the pope spoke of “the grave religious, political and social problems existing in the Holy Land: the complex and delicate problems of the coexistence of the peoples of the region, of their living in peace, and questions of a religious, civil and human nature which involve the life of the different communities that live in the Holy Land.”

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