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Marking the Pontifical Missions 25th anniversary in 1974, Pope Paul VI wrote in a letter to Msgr. John Nolan that its work is “one of the clearest signs of the Holy Sees concern for the welfare of Palestinians, who are particularly dear to us because they are the people of the Holy Land, because they include followers of Christ and because they have been and still are being so tragically tried.” He reaffirmed his support, expressing “heartfelt sharing in their sufferings and our support for their legitimate aspirations.”

Expanding the mandate of the Pontifical Mission beyond Palestine, the Pope continued. “In addition to continuing its assistance without distinction of nationality or religion to those who have suffered or are suffering in any way as a result of the repeated conflicts which have devastated that region, the Mission will have to expect, in the situation which is now evolving, to contribute to projects of aid, of rehabilitation and development.”

Msgr. Robert L. Stern took up this challenge when he assumed the position of President of the Pontifical Mission in 1987. Under his direction the papal agency embarked on a new course, supporting health care programs in Gaza and the West Bank; building reconciliation programs among Palestinians and Israelis; rebuilding village communities in Lebanon destroyed during the civil war; restoring agricultural lands in rural Lebanon; offering health care to Iraqi refugees and supporting village self-sufficiency programs in Jordan; and supplying medicines to clinics and hospitals in Iraq.

Building bridges between Christians and non-Christians has been a major focus of the papacy of John Paul II. His visits to Christian and non-Christian countries reinforce his commitment to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.

In this spirit, the Pontifical Mission builds bridges between Catholics and other Christians, Muslims and Jews, thus affirming in practice that we are all “children of Abraham.”

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Michael J.L. La Civita is Executive Editor of Catholic Near East.

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Tags: Middle East Palestine War Pope Pius XII