Gaza’s Christians and life under the bombs

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“We were also asked, as were the residents of Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahia, to evacuate our homes immediately. And like everyone else, we are asking ourselves where we can go. Gaza is small. Everything is close by. There is no safe haven or neutral place that can shelter us. Where do we go?”

From the Latin parish of the Holy Family in Gaza, Fr. Jorge Hernandez, a member of the Institute of the Incarnate Word describes the reality his community is experiencing. He is also standing under the rain of bombs falling down from the sky onto the Strip and this is not the first time. The Argentinean priest has been leading the Gaza Strip’s small Catholic community – just 200 faithful in a land that is home to just under 2000 Christians in total - for several years. They have shared the all the suffering of a population that remains isolated inside an area that barely measures 360 km² but is inhabited by 1,8 million people.

On Wednesday afternoon, around about the same time as four children were being killed by an Israeli missile which struck a beach,fear enveloped the Holy Family Church as well: three missiles fell very close to the parish buildings, so yesterday it was decided that the three nuns from the same order who are working with Fr. Hernandez would return to Bethlehem. Because they are foreign, they were able to leave the Strip during the brief ceasefire the UN managed to obtain on humanitarian grounds. But the pastor has stayed put, along with the Mother Teresa nuns who moved in with a group of disabled children. Their institute is also located in an area affected by raids so they thought the Holy Family Church was a safer place to be.

In this period of huge turmoil, Fr. Hernandez has been keeping in touch with the outside world by posting letters on the Institute of the Incarnate Word’s Facebook page. These letters describe the daily lives of his parishioners who face the constant threat of bombs. “As I was preparing my sermon for mass, I asked myself: what can I tell these people? How do I comfort them? What good word can I throw in? It’s so hard. And then I thought: will anyone come? Today, thank God, I was able to celebrate Sunday mass with seven courageous nuns and four courageous men. Given the circumstances, that gave us some reason for some joy.”

“One Christian family felt the effects of a bomb which fell on a house near theirs. Broken windows, smoke, screams, chaos: this was the tragic consequence they experienced. And now young children are starting to get sick from the fear, the stress, the shock waves caused by detonations and the constant noise. Their parents are really doing all that they can to distract them and ensure that they are not traumatized by this brutal violence: every time there’s “noise”, they play at jumping around, they dance or hug the children trying to cover their ears.”

In his letters, Fr. Hernandez says the war was not unexpected. “People had expected this military escalation for some time now and it could last a long time. The only thing that surprised us was that the local authorities showed resistance on a larger scale and were better prepared than in other wars. The fact that Hamas attacked Tel Aviv and Jerusalem was no small matter,” he explained. The priest also said he feared that the war would lead to Islamic fundamentalists striking out against Christians: “Judging by what is going on elsewhere, I wouldn’t be surprised,” he said. “This is partly why the strength Christians in Gaza have shown is admirable. They know only too well now that their fate lies in God’s hands.”

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By Giorgio Bernardelli/ Vatican Insider