GAZA – From December 13-15, 2019, H.E. Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, spent three days in the Gaza Strip during which he visited, alongside a delegation of clergy, religious men and women and laypeople, the Holy Family Parish and celebrated Christmas Mass.
On Friday morning we left Jerusalem. Some of us had in mind those recurrent images that we are used to seeing on TV and social media; Gaza! That dangerous zone which poses a security threat and should be closed and sealed.
After passing the thorough security control at Erez checkpoint, we crossed into Gaza. This meant the start of a chain of discoveries that shattered a big part of our stereotypes and images of reality there. These stereotypes were replaced by an image of hope, humanity and awe of a young society with limitless potential, waiting to be transformed into an eager lively force and a spirit for goodness, progress and prosperity.
The small Christian community of Gaza lives as a united family. Relations are strong, and this belonging reinforces in them hope and resilience against the internal and external daily struggles. We saw beautiful faces, children playing and laughing, as well as educated young people, which life’s adversaries made their humanity more mature and their faith purer.
But we were soon hit by the agonizing reality. We met children who are looking forward to living a life without fear, young people who are looking for work and parents who are worried about the future of their children, concerned about making daily bread and ensuring a dignified life for their families. Let us not forget that the unemployment rate in Gaza exceeds 40%.
On Friday morning, we visited the Sisters of St. Teresa, the Missionaries of Charity. The Sisters take care of disabled children as well as the elderly. The next day, we paid a visit to the Rosary Sisters School and had the chance to see the new units there. We also had a meeting with the teaching staff of the Latin Patriarchate School.
After meeting the youth and celebrating Holy Mass with the Scouts Bara’im (Cub Scouts), we visited some families and listened to their concerns and worries.
On Sunday, the Apostolic Administrator celebrated Christmas Mass, during which a group of the parish’s children received the Sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation. The Mass was concluded with a prayer with and for the students who are sitting for their Tawjihi exams this year.
On our way back to Jerusalem, we reflected on this paradoxical reality, as crossing back was really difficult, not only because of the more thorough security control, but also because of the pain represented in the paradox of the two realities separated by a few kilometers.
This visit was a special occasion to prepare for the celebration of the Mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God, Who came for our salvation. It was also an opportunity to celebrate a real Christmas centered around the poor, oppressed and suffering man, who is waiting for Jesus to break his chains. Today, we should continue His work so that His salvation can reach every space in which Jesus the King has not lived yet.