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On 11 March 1926, Pope Pius XI decided to unite permanently into one organization and under one administration all the American Catholic associations working for assistance to Russia and other areas of the Near East and in general working for the same goals as the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Church and the Pontifical Commission for Russia. This new pontifical organization was to be called the “Catholic Near East Welfare Association” (CNEWA). It was placed under the immediate direction of the archbishop of New York, and he was invited to form a governing body selected from the American hierarchy. The funds raised by the new association were to be placed directly at the disposition of the Holy Father, who would disburse them in response to the requests for assistance coming to him from all over the world or recommended to him by CNEWA itself.

By the mandate of the Holy See, the purposes of “The Catholic Near East Welfare Association” and the “Catholic Union” were to be included in the new association.

Pius XI commended the new association and his dispositions for it to the hierarchy of the United States. On 15 September 1926, in keeping with the wishes of the Holy Father and on the initiative of the Archbishop of New York, the bishops of the United States at their annual meeting expressed their full approval and adoption of the pope’s plan and declared that CNEWA would be their sole instrumentality authorized to solicit funds for Catholic interests in Russia and the Near East.

Initial organization and operations

CNEWA began to grow very much in accordance with the experiences and vision of its first president, Jesuit Father Edmund A. Walsh. Father Walsh, who had previously headed a special “Papal Relief Mission to Russia,” identified CNEWA as “A Society in Aid of Catholic Interests in Russia and the Near East” and saw it primarily as a papal relief agency.

Following the ratification by the U.S. bishops of the Holy See’s wishes, the Board of Directors of CNEWA agreed to continue to use the original civil charter and to organize its activities into six departments: Greece and the Balkans, General Relief in Russia and Asia Minor, Religious Welfare (to assume the work of the Catholic Union), Education and Student Exchange, Domestic Interests Affecting the Oriental Church in America, and Business Administration.

Subsequently, by the mandate or with the approval of the pope, CNEWA made grants of assistance for a wide variety of charitable works such as the relief of flood victims in Louisiana, the evacuation of Russian refugees from Constantinople, and medical and relief assistance for earthquake victims in Puerto Rico.

Father Walsh insisted that “the wish of the Holy Father is rather to form a permanent society somewhat like the International Red Cross or the American Near East Relief. It will be a centralized Catholic distributing agency which can materially assist the Holy See to meet the daily increasing demands made on the Holy Father for assistance in humanitarian works, in the field of education, and in social welfare work all over the world, as well as in distinctly religious and missionary activities.”

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