Mission and the Near East

by Monsignor John G. Nolan
photos by Sr. Christian Molidor, R.S.M.

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In 1926 Pope Pius XI established the Catholic Near East Welfare Association to help keep Christianity alive in the Near East. It would serve people in an area extending from Eastern Europe down through the Levant to India.The Eastern Churches would be its special concern. These ancient and honorable faith traditions represent the diversity of Christianity. This linkwith the early missionary Church couldnot be neglected.

The last 60 years have seen profound changes in the Near East. Since the Second World War, Christians in the East have endured enormous sacrifices which recall those of the early Church. Other peoples in these regions have also suffered from the economic and political conflicts. In fact, people in these regions have endured conflicts for thousands of years. Yet it has only been in this century that CNEWA has been there to respond with constructive action, which is the only basis for real hope and is the truest expression of compassion.

CNEWA has responded to changing circumstances by expanding its mission to serve all people in need, regardless of their need. The development suggests how the Church’s sense of mission has grown. The Second Vatican Council’s “Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church” speaks of the Church’s continuing mission in the twentieth century: “In the course of human history it unfolds the mission of Christ Himself, who was sent to preach the gospel to the poor. Hence, prompted by the Holy Spirit, the Church must walk the same road which Christ walked: a road of poverty and obedience, of service and self-sacrifice to the death, from which death He came forth a victor by His resurrection. For thus did all the apostles walk in hope.”

Mission is more than chalking up converts and supporting them once they become “ours.” It demands giving witness to who we are as followers of Jesus.Through this way of living we distinguish ourselves from others and become models for others. At the same time we respect other people and their distinct culture.

While we do not refrain from proclaiming the gospel message, it is more than spoken words. Actions speak more clearly than words and translate their meaning for those who wonder who we really are.

CNEWA does mission work. As the Holy Father’s mission aid to the Eastern churches, we support native Christians in the Near East. As a Christian witness in the Near East, we serve all people in need, regardless of their creed.

CNEWA also is a means by which North American Christians participate in the missionary activity of the Church. Their prayers, sacrifices, and financial generosity exemplify the missionary spirit, which fosters a unity of the human family while respecting cultural differences.

The National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States wrote of the importance of mission in their 1986 pastoral statement “To the Ends of the Earth.” They call us to answer an often overlooked challenge of our faith – to join the missionary efforts even if we remain “at home” in North America. They call us beyond the limitations of geography and economics which separate us from others. As Christians, we recognize the whole earth as our home and all people as members of one family.

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Tags: CNEWA Christianity Unity Relief Eastern Churches