The international foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) continues to follow the situation in the Holy Land closely, particularly the conflict between Israel and Hamas. The Church of the Holy Family is the only Catholic parish in the Gaza Strip and has become a refuge Centre for many Christians who have fled the bombings, especially after the bombing of the nearby Orthodox Church when over 200 additional Christians moved to the Catholic parish. Fr Gabriel Romanelli has been the parish priest in Gaza for the past four years.
When this terrible conflict began, he was away in Bethlehem, and has now been following the situation from Jerusalem, where he does all he can to help the community. ACN spoke to him to see how he and his flock are dealing with the situation, on Tuesday (24 October)i.
What is the situation in the Gaza Strip at the moment?
It remains critical, because the bombing continues day and night, and the number of dead and wounded continues to increase. The death tally in Gaza is already above 5,000, with 15,000 wounded. We believe there are over 1,500 people under the rubble, including 800 children. Each dead person, each wounded person or hostage is a tremendous injustice and the source of great pain. You can only imagine the state of mind of people in this situation who cannot see any light at the end of the tunnel.
And how is the Christian community of Gaza holding up at this time?
The situation in the parish of the Holy Family, in Gaza, which is entrusted to the pastoral care of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, is generally good, but the bombing of the Greek Orthodox Church compound, which left 18 dead, had a deep effect on the Christians who were staying there and on the wider Christian community.
Out of the 2.3 million inhabitants of Gaza only 1,000 are Christians, and we are all friends. We know each other, we work together, we are members of the same parish groups. These people are all cousins, relatives, brothers and sisters. The Christian community in Gaza was deeply affected and more people came to the Catholic Church for shelter. Now, there are over 700 of us, including children with disabilities. But the community is well. They are living like the first Christians, sharing whatever they can find and helping everyone they can. They also opened other Catholic schools for people to shelter in, and
there are over 2,500 people staying at the Holy Family school, which is located in another neighbourhood, for example.
What do the Christians of Gaza ask of the rest of the world?
Our Christians, like everybody else, are asking for prayers, that the Lord have mercy on us all and grant us peace, and that this war come to an end. They are also asking that people speak about this conflict and that all people: politicians, diplomats, journalists and institutional staff try to speak words of peace and reconciliation, rather than being drawn in by the circumstances. Finally, they ask that the world ensure the opening of humanitarian corridors, and freedom for all.
How can people help them?
By praying, by spreading the word, and through material aid. The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem is opening an official aid channel to provide as many people as possible with material aid, water, fuel for electricity, etc. Before the war we only had four hours of electricity per day, and now we have nothing. I invite you to be generous, so that we can help as many people as possible.
We know that Pope Francis has contacted you many times. What do you talk about?
The Holy Father called me and the parish in Gaza many times to tell us that he is close, that he is praying and that he is concerned. He gave us his blessing, and asked us to take care of the children who are entrusted to our care. We are grateful to the pope and to millions of people of good faith all over the world who are praying, making sacrifices, carrying out penance and working for peace and justice. May the Lord bless you, and may Our Lady, Queen of Peace, grant peace to all.