From ONE Magazine

That All May Be One

Why is an organization named “Catholic Near East Welfare Association” concerned with Orthodox churches, not to mention Muslims and Jews?

Therein lies a tale.…

CNEWA’s birth date was 11 March 1926, when Pope Pius XI directed that “all [American] Catholic organizations working for the common cause of aiding Russia and the Near East, as well as all other organizations proposing to labor for causes comprised within the scope of the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Church and the Pontifical Commission for Russia, shall be united in one body and remain united under a common direction.

“In particular, the two organizations already working in this field, namely, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and the Catholic Union should be merged.”

The prototype Catholic Near East Welfare Association had been chartered 18 months previously to “solicit and procure the voluntary contribution of funds for the relief of suffering people, particularly children, in Greece, Turkey, Armenia and other countries known as the Near East.”

Only three months after that, an American branch of the Catholic Union was incorporated. The Catholic Union had been founded in Europe to promote the reunion of the Ukrainian, Bulgarian and Romanian Orthodox churches with the See of Rome.

The new papal agency, although using the name, “Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA),” was charged by the Holy Father to continue laboring for the purposes of both the organizations that had been merged into it.

In 1930, the mandate of CNEWA was extended by the Pope to include support for the pastoral mission and institutions of the Catholic churches of the East.

As the years passed and the Holy See’s institutions and their purposes evolved, so did CNEWA’s.

• When two special pontifical councils were established in Rome after Vatican II, one for the promotion of Christian unity and the other for interreligious dialogue, CNEWA began to collaborate with them.

• CNEWA’s original purpose of working for the reunion of some Orthodox churches with the Holy See was extended eventually to include all.

• As the model for seeking Christian unity gradually shifted from the return to Rome to that of establishing full communion among sister churches, CNEWA began increasingly to offer its services to all branches of the Church, both Catholic and Orthodox.

• As the Holy See began to initiate dialogues with Muslims and Jews, CNEWA continued its policy of providing humanitarian assistance to all people without regard to creed and began to promote fraternal relations with non-Christians, especially Jews and Muslims, by collaboration in works of human development.

That’s why our operating principle in this dialogue of charity is: Always act as if the Church is one, unless forced to encounter a difference.

Msgr. Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA