Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) dedicated its annual global rosary campaign for peace to the healing and protection of the suffering in the Holy Land. On October 18, well over 500,000 children across the world prayed the rosary, petitioning Our Lady to help bring peace to the region.
At present, circumstances prevent ACN from providing humanitarian and pastoral aid to the small Christian community trapped in the Holy Land. “But we stand ready to do so,” said Edward Clancy, director of outreach for ACNUSA. Clancy echoed the call of Pope Francis for “humanitarian corridors” to facilitate delivery of vital support for Christians in both Gaza and the West Bank.
For now, prayer is the only tool to protect the innocent, said Clancy, citing the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who stressed that, although “prayer cannot solve” the conflict, “it gives light to the heart and eyes.” The archbishop—who offered to take the place of the hostages held by Hamas—believes that fervent prayer has the power to give the faithful caught in the war zone a sense that they are not alone, no matter how dark the situation is at present.
From the beginning of the violence, ACN has kept in touch with a woman religious based at Gaza’s only parish, the Church of the Holy family, Sister Nabila Saleh, a Sister of the Holy Rosary. She told ACN that her community is determined to stay put and not flee toward southern Gaza, as Israel urged civilians not be caught in bombardments and a likely ground invasion.
“We will not go,” said Sister Nabila, who is in direct contact with Pope Francis. She continued: “People have nothing, not the basic things; where should we go? To die on the street? We have old people, and people with multiple disabilities and elderly people. We need medicine. Many hospitals are destroyed. Where should we go?”
A priest serving at Holy Family parish, Father Gabriel Romanelli, in an interview with ACN, expressed the same determination: “What will they find in the south of the Gaza strip? They will find hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people who have fled Gaza City. And there is nothing in the south and the health and humanitarian situation is disastrous, with lack of water and food.” Father Romanelli made it clear that parishioners have no option but to stay.
Gaza’s Catholics, he said, believe that “they are safer with Jesus. And that is why together they pray, they pray, and hope that the Lord will protect them and that the people who are working and praying for peace will change the decision to strike the church which has always been an oasis of peace.”
“ACNUSA calls on all its donors and friends to pray for peace and for an opportunity to treat the wounded and to begin to restore the lives of all the innocents caught in the violence,” concluded Clancy.
At least 16 Christians, including 10 from one family, were killed during an attack in Gaza October 19, which caused the total collapse of a building in the compound of the Greek Orthodox Church. According ACN’s project partners another 15 Christians are trapped under the debris. The Church of Saint Porphyrios building itself was not hit.
Around 400 people, mostly Christians, have been sheltering in the compound since the start of the armed conflict. Among the victims are several young Christians who were part of the “Employment Generation Project” for Christian youth, run by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
The Orthodox compound is located a few hundred meters from the Holy Family Catholic Church, where a further 500 Christians are sheltered. Many families from the Greek Orthodox compound have had to relocate to Holy Family, which is already filled to capacity.