Gaza – Interview with the Parish priest of the Holy Family in Gaza, Fr Mario de Silva, who replaced Fr George Jorge Hernandez
What duties are you in charge of as Parish Priest in Gaza ?
I work as spiritual leader for the Christian community of Gaza, where I preside over masses and call on sick in hospitals. I am also responsible for two programmes, Bara’im and Christian Youth. Moreover, I run fundraising campaigns for the sake of poor families.
What are the activities of Bara’im and Christian Youth?
Activities take place three days a week. Wednesday is the day of encounter of Christian Youth. It starts with a Morning mass. Children would then play during two hours and receive lessons in catechism. We end the day with a meal with everybody.
Saturday and Sunday is the program of Bara’im for children less than 10 years and for families. Families generally gather and discuss what happens in their daily lives.
Can you tell me about the mental state of the Christian community in Gaza?
Our church is the only place where Christians may get to know their identity and that of the Christian culture. At times, not only Orthodox Christians would attend three masses – Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant – each Sunday but would come on other weekdays to meet with the Parish Priest and to take part in different activities of the Christian youth.
Will you tell us more about the daily lives of Christians in Gaza? How do they react to harassments and threats?
There are about 1230 Christians in Gaza who live among 1.8 m Muslims, of whom 130 belong to the Catholic Church and 1100 belong to the Orthodox Church. Most of them are young people.
The problem in Gaza is one that exists across the world: extremism. Two years ago for example, our church was vandalized: graffiti were written on walls, messages of hatred could be read against those who follow Christ. Graffiti can also be read on walls of streets asking people not to talk to Christians.
Would police conduct investigation about these assaults?
For sure, one of the tasks of the Parish Priest is to build and to keep a good relationship with the Government and the Police. It is worth mentioning here Fr Manuel Moussallam who had worked for 15 years to build a sound relationship with the Government.
In Christian holidays such as Christmas and Easter, do all Christians get permits to go to Bethlehem and Jerusalem?
No, there is a policy in Israel which forbids people between 15 and 35 years to have one. For families or parents who are over 35 years, Israel does not issue permits for their children who are under 15 years old, because if the parents decide to go, Israel cannot vouchsafe their return to Gaza. This means that in most of the cases families choose not to travel, for the spirit of the holidays lies in families getting together.
Would Christians of Gaza like to flee away?
Christians and mainly young people would like to leave Gaza because of poor living conditions. They keep on applying for visas to go abroad, or even to the West Bank, but their applications are always denied.
Interview conducted by Saher Kawas