Pontifical Mission for Palestine
Immediately after the adoption on 29 November 1947 by the General Assembly of the United Nations of a plan for the partition of Palestine, renewed hostilities began between Arabs and Jews. This situation brought affliction and keen anxiety to the heart of the Holy Father, Pope Pius XII. In an encyclical letter — Auspicia quaedam of 1 May 1948 — on public prayers for world peace and the solution of the problems of Palestine, Pope Pius asked for supplications “that the situation in Palestine may at long last be settled justly and thereby concord and peace be also happily established.”
When the British high commissioner left Palestine on 14 May 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed and Arab armies crossed into Palestine. As hostilities continued in the following months, Pope Pius grew deeply concerned. On 24 October 1948, he published another encyclical letter, In multiplicibus curis, concerning prayers for peace in Palestine. The pope expressed sorrow “that, in the land in which our Lord Jesus Christ shed His blood to bring redemption and salvation to all mankind, the blood of man continues to flow; and that beneath the skies which echoed on that fateful night with the Gospel tidings of peace, men continue to fight and to increase the distress of the unfortunate and the fear of the terrorized, while thousands of refugees, homeless and driven, wander from their fatherland in search of shelter and food.”
Pope Pius XII’s relief initiatives
Pius XII, “without abandoning the attitude of impartiality,” did his utmost to attain justice and peace in Palestine. He sought to come to the aid of the victims of the war by sending the resources at his disposal to his representatives in Palestine, Lebanon and Egypt, and by encouraging the formation among Catholics in various countries of undertakings organized for the same purpose.
In February of 1949, when an armistice came into effect, Pope Pius continued to demonstrate his concern for the plight of the Palestinian people and the status of the Holy Places. In his encyclical letter Redemptoris nostri cruciatus of 15 April 1949, he said, “piteous appeals still reach us from numerous refugees, of every age and condition, who have been forced by the disastrous war to emigrate and even live in exile in concentration camps, the prey to destitution, contagious disease and perils of every sort.”
Establishment of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine
During the preceding months, the Holy Father had been studying the efforts of the church among the refugees with a view to unifying all the work of humanitarian and charitable assistance of the Holy See into one overall pontifical agency. In April 1949, Pope Pius summoned to Rome Monsignor Thomas J. McMahon, National Secretary of Catholic Near East Welfare Association. The pope informed him of his intention to organize a special mission for Palestine and named him its president.