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Serving the People of the Holy Land

Humanitarian activities in the Holy Land become even more urgent in the light of the area’s political problems.

by Brother Austin David, F.S.C.

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The survival of the Christian community in the Holy Land has always been a fervent concern of the universal Church. In 1974, Pope Paul VI said the Holy Land “is also a country which, besides the Shrines and Holy Places, a Church – a community of believers in Christ – lives and works.”

The Holy Father emphasized the ongoing concern for this community of the faithful: “Were their presence to cease, the Shrines would be without the warmth of this living witness and the Christian Holy Places of Jerusalem and the Holy Land would become like museums.”

The Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) serves the Christian community which originated in the Holy Land some two thousand years ago. In collaboration with its sister organization, the Pontifical Mission for Palestine (PMP), CNEWA has supported that community, and persons of other faiths as well, since 1926. Their humanitarian work extends far beyond the members of the Catholic Church. CNEWA and PMP serve without regard to race or creed.

The Catholic Church in the Holy Land has hundreds of priests, brothers, sisters, and lay persons working full time. Most of them are Palestinians. They know what help is needed and, with CNEWA support, do their best to provide it.

Through PMP’s Jerusalem office, for example, 820 Americans take care of some 820 needy children, Muslims and Christians. Some of them are orphans; all of them are in need. Not far from Jesus’ birthplace, Bethlehem University also serves the local community. There, young Palestinian women and men acquire skills which will let them stay in the land of their own births and raise their families in dignity. The university is sponsored by the Vatican with major help from CNEWA.

PMP supports a wide range of programs in the Holy Land. Christian libraries in Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem provide children with reading materials and a quiet place to do their homework. Special programs for the handicapped operate under the auspices of PMP throughout the Holy Land. In Gaza is a school for the blind. At the Paul VI Ephpheta Institute in Bethlehem, deaf children receive speech therapy and vocational training. In Haifa 60 children with severe birth defects receive care which they would get nowhere else.

The PMP also gives financial grants to programs and projects conducted by local groups. In 1986, for instance, CNEWA provided microcomputers for elementary and high school students. At the same time, we also provided donkeys for farmers who needed them. In 1987 we were able to provide emergency assistance to afflicted farmers in the Jordan valley.

Humanitarian activities in the Holy Land become even more urgent in light of the area’s political problems. Over two million people have been uprooted and displaced over more than 40 years of conflict. Here, too, supported by CNEWA and other charitable organizations, the Pontifical Mission has sponsored relief programs for needy people in Jordan and Lebanon, where many displaced Palestinians live.

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