Brooklyn Priest Named New President of Vatican Agency for Humanitarian Relief

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By Tim Harfmann

New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan announced Monsignor Peter Vaccari, a Brooklyn priest, as the new head of a Catholic organization considered to be a “lifeline for the poor.”

“Personally, it’s a great challenge for me. It’s a new challenge for me,” Msgr. Vaccari said of his new role as president of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).

As an agency of the Vatican, the organization provides funds to ensure the Eastern Churches and devoted religious sisters have enough money to do their vital work. Cardinal Dolan serves as chairman and treasurer of CNEWA. 

“You’ve got to put CNEWA in that constellation of efforts of the Church that remind us of the universality and of the sacred responsibility, as Saint Paul reminds us, of thinking with and for the Church,” Cardinal Dolan said. 

The new appointment comes at a turbulent time: the ceasefire in Syria is expiring and fighting could resume at any moment.

Msgr. Vaccari said the crisis in the Middle East is a high priority. 

“This is a very, very painful time for Christians in the entire region, specifically in Syria where we are seeing martyrs for the faith,” he said. 

Since the start of the Syrian refugee crisis, CNEWA has provided food and shelter, helped those who have been displaced and built churches.

Msgr. Vaccari succeeds Monsignor John Kozar, CNEWA’s president since 2011. Making sure that Catholicism stayed in the Middle East was one of the pillars of his Msgr. Kozar’s career and ministry.

“We always remained in support of the Eastern Catholic Churches, never dictating, but accompanying walking with,” said Msgr. Kozar. 

Relief efforts won’t slow down under the new president.  

“I really am considering Msgr. Kozar now to be my teacher, in so many ways, in the world of CNEWA” Msgr. Vaccari said. 

The organization will remain dedicated to its mission as Msgr. Vaccari begins his new assignment.