Sr Saleh described to Vatican News’ Federico Piana what happened that day: “Nahida (the mother) was shot dead by some snipers stationed in the houses on the rear, and as soon as the daughter saw her mother fall, she went to help her but she was also hit on the head,” she said adding that the parishioners hardly managed to recover one body, while they had to wait a long time before retrieving the other.
The nun is traumatised because she actually saw the incident, and because Israeli tanks have now surrounded the church and shooting is constant, making it almost impossible to go out of the building even to find food of which they are in desperate need.
There are no weapons here
Sister Nabila explained that Israeli forces have ordered the community not to go out after 4pm. “Snipers are everywhere and tension is constant, while the compound has no electricity and drinking water”, she said. “Nevertheless,” she added, “we are grateful to God that, until now at least there have been no more deaths and we pray that this war ends very soon.”
She further explained that the parish community didn’t expect an escalation of the fighting around the church because Israeli authorities had been warned that almost the entire Gazan Christian community is sheltered there. “Here there are no weapons and there are no Muslims”, Sister Nabila said.
The church is now also sheltering seven people injured during Saturdays’ incident who need treatment. The vicar Father Yusuf has asked for help, but given the ongoing fighting in the area, they don’t know when and if it will arrive, said Sr. Nabila
Among the refugees in the Holy Family parish there are also several children, many of whom are disabled or sick.
All of them, she said, are eager to prepare for Christmas, but it will be difficult. “The birth of Jesus always fills our hearts with joy, despite everything, and we will try to prepare for Christmas as best we can.”
Silence on injustice hurts more than war
At the end of the conversation, Sr Nabileh made a strong plea for world leaders “to open their eyes on the relentless death and destruction killing children and innocent people.” “They don’t talk about justice and this hurts more than war,” she lamented.
Holy Land Catholic Ordinaries’ Christmas message
And as the humanitarian tragedy continues to unfold across Gaza, the Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land (AOCTS) also launched another impassioned plea for the immediate end of the war.
In a Christmas message released on Monday, AOCTS Justice and Peace Commission recalled the thousands of men, women and children, Palestinian and Israeli, who have been killed in the past 70 days or so.
“The war has taken an enormous toll on an entire generation of our children, who live in daily fear for themselves and their families,” read the message. “In Gaza, more Palestinian children have been killed in the last two months than in the preceding two years of war in all of the conflicts worldwide. The war has taken an enormous toll on an entire generation of our children, who live in daily fear for themselves and their families.”
Since the outbreak of the conflict on October 7, about two million people, more than 85% of Gaza’s population, have been displaced and most of them are without shelter and constantly on the move.
“We lament the loss of life, fear for the wounded who have little access to medical care, and are anguished for the homeless,” the Catholic religious leaders said.
Appeal to the international community
In the face of such immane tragedy, they asked all those celebrating Christmas in the world to pray for peace in the Holy Land, and urged world leaders to act to end the war immediately and facilitate “a path towards a just peace based on equality”.
We pray for peace in Bethlehem, in Gaza and all over the Holy Land. We pray for an end to violence and a release of all captives. We pray for a permanent ceasefire and for the dawning of a time of dialogue instead of oppression, of justice instead of imposed solutions, of living together instead of the dream of getting rid of one another.
Global Day of Action for an immediate ceasefire
Meanwhile, Caritas Internationalis, along with several of the Confederation’s 162 national Caritas, joined on Monday, a Global Day of Action calling for a ceasefire now in the Gaza Strip and Israel to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe and further loss of innocent lives. The petition involves more than 800 organisations worldwide and has already gathered more than 3.5 million signatures.
“On this Global Day of Action, we urge all parties in the Holy Land to #CeasefireNow. People throughout the world must unite and say with one united global voice, ‘Enough is enough! Cease fire! Stop this brutal bombardment!’ International political leaders must urge Israel and Hamas to: cease fire in the Holy Land; safeguard all civilians affected by the conflict; observe international law; guarantee humanitarian access & safety; release all hostages and those arbitrarily detailed,” said Alistair Dutton, Caritas Internationalis’ Secretary General.