On August 25th, a 48h curfew was introduced by the Gaza Strip’s Authority in response to the detection of the first four cases of Covid-19 in the territory. Up to that time, the number of cases (132 total cases, 72 healed, 3 deaths) was limited by the presence of “sanitary checkpoint” at the borders with Egypt and Israel. The new cases in town are a matter of concern. Gaza is one of the most overpopulated places on the world, with more than two million people living in a territory of 375 square kilometers, and its conditions are not suitable to face a pandemic and guarantee a safe condition to its citizens.
Father Gabriel Romanelli, the priest leading the parish of the Strip, commented about what is happening in Gaza: “Thanking God, we have not had that many cases in the Strip. These new cases are alarming.” This motivated his decision to “stop school and parish’s activities until new local Authority’s directions.”
The sanitary crisis exacerbated the economic conditions of Gaza: “Since so many workers have had to stop or have seen their salaries reduced or suspended, the situation, already serious in itself, has worsened”, Father Romanelli continues. Because of the restrictions for three months all parish activities had to be suspended. This caused quite a lot of stress in the people: “The people stayed at home, the difficulties were also felt in the Christian community. Family problems, quarrels, some depression-pure problems among children and adolescents have increased”.
However, even during the blockade, the father decided not to totally stop the pastoral activity: “We decided not to give up and do everything so that people feel accompanied, not forgotten or neglected. During all these months, when it was possible, I visited the families several times, bringing the Blessed Sacrament, Anointing, Confession, and praying the Holy Rosary with them. I have continued to visit the sick and the elderly”.
The community organized food vouchers to help the families do their shopping. As in many other parishes in the Holy Land, technology has been used as a means to stay close to the faithful. “Throughout the month of May, we organized live internet broadcasts with competitions, moments of prayer, songs, training, games to keep children and young people close to the Church,” explains Don Romanelli.
The parish activities were extended to all Christians, not only to Catholics: “Here, despite the number of Catholics being only 132 people, we do activities for all Christians – says the father proudly – In a true ecumenical dimension we find ourselves in the Catholic Church as one family. The activities include constant meetings for the different groups: the youngest, adolescents, two youth groups, Scouts, altar boys, women in the parish, men in the parish, families, etc.”.
Now after many months, the parish has had the opportunity to reopen: “The action of the Church cannot remain eternally virtual, it is necessary for the spiritual and mental life of people. Especially here, in our small Christian community in Gaza”.Due to the curfew, nobody is allowed to go out. As Father Romanelli told to the microphones of Vatican News, “on the one side, here is a war zone and people are familiar with curfews and the obligation to stay home. This is ordinary. On the other side, people are scared. They know what the pandemic caused in the Holy Land, in Israel, and that many people have lost their lives. Everybody here expects that at the end of the curfew the Government will take all possible preventive measures and will allow them to go out.”
Father Romanelli with the parish association helps the so-called “butterfly children”, children suffering from Epidermolysis Bullosa, a rare disabling genetic disease that causes blisters and lesions in the skin and mucous membranes. Throughout the Gaza Strip 32 children suffer from this disease. In addition to the expenses for the care of these children, the parish has launched numerous youth and emergency health projects.
The priest concludes: “Thank you again for what you can do. If it were impossible for you, we understand the situation very well and we trust that Divine Providence will find a way to help”. Pro Terra Sancta, in all these years has never failed in its support for the parish of Gaza, and has once again accepted Father Romanelli’s requests to contribute to the ever-increasing ordinary expenses of the parish and to the many projects carried out to help the poorest and most needy.