Msgr. John Kozar Reflects on CNEWA Presidency as Retirement Nears

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Msgr. John E. Kozar, president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association/Pontifical Mission for Palestine, is retiring June 30.

An agency of the Holy See founded by Pope Pius XI in 1926, CNEWA works for, through and with the Eastern churches throughout the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe.

Msgr. Kozar, a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, began his tenure as president of CNEWA/PMP in 2011, after having served as national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies for 10 years.

Msgr. Peter Vaccari, formerly the rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, was named to succeed Msgr. Kozar as president of CNEWA/PMP, Cardinal Dolan announced last October.

Msgr. Vaccari initiated the process of transition as vice president Jan. 1 and will assume his responsibilities as president July 1.

The Holy See approved the nomination and election to succession.

Msgr. Kozar, who turns 75 in October, reflected on his years at CNEWA/PMP in a phone interview with CNY June 12.

He said his appointment has been an honor bestowed on him. “I find it just a great blessing for my priesthood, for my own soul, the development of my spirituality. I had the privilege for these nine-plus years of reaching out in the name of the Holy Father on behalf of the universal Church to many areas of the world that are forgotten or that know nothing but conflict or oppression or have never enjoyed any kind of benefits that others, maybe even in their own locale, have enjoyed.

“It’s all about bringing hope to people. We are messengers of hope,” he said of himself and his staff. “Everything that we do—even when it might be humanitarian or crisis intervention—is done in a pastoral way. It’s the hands of a shepherd—in one sense, the hands of our Holy Father, but the hands of Jesus Himself, as the Good Shepherd.

“We are accompanying the local Church. That has been, for me, very, very fulfilling.”

Of his numerous trips abroad on behalf of CNEWA, Msgr. Kozar said, “these weren’t to the capital cities. These, many times, were to very remote areas where there are no flights, and it’s two days on a horrible road in a Jeep. Sometimes the crude road ends and then it’s a little bit of a hike. I’ve been in areas where people have never seen someone with—I have white hair now—white hair and white skin.”

The beauty of that, he said, has been “there is a hunger, especially in these most remote areas, when the name of Jesus and who He is and the cross has been brought to them, and then when I come there, it’s like, wow, it’s a celebration.”

CNEWA has also been reaching out to those in need amid the coronavirus pandemic, including by rushing emergency aid to its partners in India and Africa to support those in immediate danger of starvation and dehydration and to help contain the spread of the coronavirus in vulnerable areas served by the Eastern Catholic churches, particularly in India’s central and northern states and in Egypt, Eritrea and Ethiopia. CNEWA’s COVID-19 campaign, https://cnewa.org/covid-19.

Msg. Kozar has high hopes for the future of CNEWA. “I’m overjoyed and I’m just filled with confidence that CNEWA will continue to do very well in this ministry of accompaniment and of bringing hope to people because my successor, Msgr. Vaccari, is so well suited for this.”

He also acknowledged his gratitude for the leadership of Cardinal Dolan, who serves as chairman of the board, and appreciation of “the entire CNEWA family” whose offices span eight countries. “They’ve really put into practice this idea that everything we do is, in one form or another, pastoral.”

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