Amid war, Cardinal Dolan to make pastoral visit to Israel, Palestine

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan delivers his homily during Easter Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City March 31, 2024. (OSV News photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

(OSV News) — Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York has announced he will travel to Israel and Palestine amid a war now in its seventh month.

The cardinal will undertake a pastoral visit April 12-18 in his role as chairman of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

Founded by Pope Pius XI in 1926, CNEWA supports the Catholic Church in the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe.

During his trip, Cardinal Dolan plans to meet with local Christian, Jewish and Islamic religious leaders; Israeli and Palestinian representatives; and various social service and humanitarian efforts.

The visit will mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, established by Pope Pius XII in 1949 and placed since its inception under the administration of CNEWA.

The mission functions as CNEWA’s operating agency in the Middle East, working through the local Church to provide emergency aid, health care, educational support, post-traumatic counseling and catechesis to all, regardless of ethnic or religious affiliation. Over the years, the mission’s mandate has been extended to meeting the needs of all vulnerable persons throughout the Middle East. The archbishop of New York serves as ex-officio chair of the mission’s board of trustees.

Accompanying Cardinal Dolan will be Msgr. Peter I. Vaccari, who serves as president of both CNEWA and the Pontifical Mission to Palestine.

For security reasons, the full itinerary of the trip — which does not include travel to Gaza — has not been released, CNEWA communications director Michael La Civita told OSV News.

However, La Civita said that Cardinal Dolan will reprise previous visits to Ephpheta Paul VI Institute (Effetà Betlemme), a school for hearing-impaired children in the Palestinian Territories; the House of Grace, which supports prisoners, at-risk youth, families in need and Holocaust survivors; and the Notre Dame des Douleurs (Our Lady of Sorrows) Home, which serves disadvantaged seniors.

La Civita told OSV News the cardinal’s visit had been planned prior to Hamas’ Oct. 7, 2023, ambush — coinciding with a Sabbath and Jewish holiday — on some 22 locations in Israel.

Hamas members gunned down civilians and took 253 hostages, according to Israel, including infants, the elderly and people with disabilities. Following several releases and rescues, some 130 hostages are believed to remain in captivity, with at least 34 believed dead, according to the Israeli Defence Forces.

A New York Times investigation found at least seven locations along the Hamas attack front where Israeli women and girls had been sexually assaulted and mutilated Oct. 7. Returned female hostages have reported sexual abuse while being held by Hamas.

Israel formally declared war on Hamas Oct. 8, placing Gaza under siege and pounding the region with airstrikes as Hamas returned fire. To date, more than 1,200 in Israel, including at least 30 U.S. citizens, and more than 32,900 in Gaza have been killed, according to Israeli and Palestinian officials, respectively. The ensuing humanitarian crisis has left the Middle East “on the verge of the abyss,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.

La Civita told OSV News that CNEWA’s one full-time staff person in Gaza remains safe, although “he has lost his parents and his infant niece” in the attacks, and “unfortunately, extended members of our family have (also) lost their lives.”

Traveling in his CNEWA roles, Cardinal Dolan “will commemorate the (75th) anniversary of the work (and) presence of the Church (through the Pontifical Mission for Palestine) … showing her solidarity with the vulnerable throughout the Middle East, particularly in Israel and Palestine,” said La Civita.

“The cardinal will do that by remembering at two liturgies the founding of the Pontifical Mission (for Palestine) by Pope Pius XII and the work of the Church in that part of the world through CNEWA,” said La Civita. “The cardinal will (also) do that by meeting with families of those who have been taken hostage.

“The Church always has to keep open the windows to dialogue,” he said. “The cardinal is going there as the chair to be that instrument, that symbol of showing another way … so that we hopefully have a just peace.”

Although seven aid workers were killed April 1 by a strike Israel called a “grave mistake,” La Civita told OSV News there are “no plans to stop” Cardinal Dolan’s visit.

“This is where you have to have faith that we will be protected by the Lord through the intercession of the Blessed Mother,” he said, adding that “Msgr. Vaccari always implores and asks for her intercession to keep us safe.”


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