“Seeing what is happening is heartbreaking,” are the words of Joseph Hazboun, the director of the Jerusalem office of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine (PMP), who is well-acquainted with Gaza, as he has to travel there three or four times a year.
Over three weeks since the start of the war, Mr. Hazboun received another piece of distressing news: on the night of 30 October, due to the bombings, half of the Arab Orthodox Cultural Center building was destroyed.
“The center was inaugurated in 2019 after 30 years of collections and fundraising to build it,” explained the PMP director. “Two days ago, they were ordered to evacuate from there, even though there were over three thousand refugees. Then, last night, half of the building was destroyed. For now, there is no news of casualties.”
The Pontifical Mission was in the process of implementing a program there to employ 24 workers, many of whom were Christians, to encourage them to settle and achieve economic stability. But now, everything needs to be rebuilt.
Sheltering in churches
Since the start of this war, many Christians have sought refuge in the Latin church of the Holy Family and the Orthodox church of Saint Porphyrius.
“We received immediate calls from both churches asking for help with food and water for the people,” Mr. Hazboun explains. “So, we agreed, after speaking with our headquarters in New York, which promptly provided funds for medicine, food, and clothing for those who had to leave their homes without bringing anything with them.”
“We continue to pray and hope that this tragedy may end before further destruction of homes and civilian casualties,” says the director of PMP. “We try to stay in touch with as many institutions as possible to provide them with comfort, support, and show that we are doing our best.”
Among the buildings damaged in this war is also the al-Ahli Hospital, a partner of the Pontifical Mission since 2009.
“On 14 October, the diagnostic center of the Anglican al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza was hit by two projectiles,” Mr. Hazboun confirms. “A bomb hit the building, blowing a hole in the roof, while the second hit the mammography center, causing damage to the structure and equipment (which is very expensive). Thank God, there were no human casualties at that moment. However, on 18 October, a large explosion occurred, killing just under 500 people.”
Prior to this tragedy, the Pontifical Mission had assisted the hospital in becoming about 90% dependent on solar energy and repairing the damage caused by the wars of 2009, 2012, and 2014.
PMP’s work in Gaza
The organization has a long history of supporting those in need, dating back to its founding in 1949, when over 700,000 Palestinians had to leave their homes and became refugees.
CNEWA (Catholic Near East Welfare Association), founded in 1926 with headquarters in New York, established three offices of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, in Beirut, Amman, and Jerusalem, to support Palestinian refugees, many of whom were Christians.
Over the years, the Pontifical Mission has funded various programs in Ramallah and Jerusalem.
In Gaza, the support included the scout center and the center of the Orthodox Church Committee, both of which were destroyed during the bombings at the Church of Saint Porphyrius.
To address various types of needs, interventions had been increased since the different wars in Gaza from 2009, including funding for the Rosary Sisters’ school, programs to provide psychological support to traumatized children during the war, food support projects, and subsidies for the poor and the elderly.
When the Pontifical Mission was founded, it was thought that the organization’s mission would be temporary. Yet, after over 70 years, its importance is more vital than ever.
By Beatrice Guarrera | VaticanNews