16 December 2023, The Tablet

Heartbreak over Holy Family church and hostage killings in Gaza

Heartbreak over Holy Family church and hostage killings in Gaza

A pro-Palestine protest in Glasgow today.
Skully/Alamy Live News

Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols were among those who condemned the “seemingly deliberate and callous killing” by the IDF of an elderly woman and her daughter in the grounds of the Holy Family Catholic Church in Gaza. Cafod described the reports as “shocking”.
Pope Francis said in his Sunday Angelus that this was an attack on a place “where there are no terrorists, but families, children, people who are sick and have disabilities, and nuns.” He added, “Some say, ‘This is terrorism. This is war.’ Yes, it is war. It is terrorism.”
The Pope and Cardinal Nichols spoke out after Cardinal Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, issued a statement earlier today stating, “A sniper of the IDF murdered two Christian women inside the Holy Family Parish in Gaza, where the majority of Christian families has taken refuge since the start of the war.
“Nahida and her daughter Samar were shot and killed as they walked to the Sister’s Convent. One was killed as she tried to carry the other to safety. Seven more people were shot and wounded as they tried to protect others inside the church compound. No warning was given, no notification was provided. They were shot in cold blood inside the premises of the Parish, where there are no belligerents.” 

In Israel, anger grew over the  deaths of three Israeli hostages shot dead by mistake by Israeli soldiers, as they left a building while carrying a white “surrender” flag. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under increased pressure to negotiate with Hamas for the release of more than 120 people still being held hostage.

Cardinal Pizzaball also said that earlier this morning, a rocket fired from an IDF tank targeted the Convent of the Sisters of Mother Theresa (Missionaries of Charity).

The convent is home to more than 54 disabled persons and is part of the church compound, which has been used solely as a place of worship since the beginning of the war. The building’s generator (the only source of electricity) and the fuel resources were destroyed.

Two more rockets, fired by an IDF tank, targeted the same Convent and rendered the home uninhabitable. The 54 disabled persons are currently displaced and without access to the respirators that some of them need to survive, the cardinal said.

“Together in prayer with the whole Christian community, we express our closeness and condolences to the families affected by this senseless tragedy. At the same time, we cannot but express that we are at a loss to comprehend how such an attack could be carried out, even more so when the whole Church prepares for Christmas.”

Cardinal Nichols said: “I am heartbroken at the information provided by Cardinal Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, of killings in the Church compound of the Catholic Parish of the Holy Family in Gaza City. I have immediately sent a message to His Eminence, expressing my horror at these events and assuring him of the prayers of Catholics in England and Wales.”

He added: “I have twice been warmly welcomed to this Parish by its people. They are a remarkable community of faith and genuine service to their neighbours. Together with the dedicated Religious Sisters, they have continued to provide shelter and sustenance to many people during these weeks of warfare. They are a people who yearn for peace.
He described it as a “seemingly deliberate and callous killing by IDF soldiers of innocent civilians: an elderly woman and her daughter in the grounds of a church. This killing has to stop. It can never be justified. I ask all people of faith and  goodwill to continue to pray for an end to this conflict by all sides.”

Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin condemned the killings, stating on social media, “Army snipers don’t kill civilians by accident.”

Speaking to The Tablet, Bishop Doran encouraged people of faith to redouble their prayers for peace and “voice their call for a ceasefire” appropriately.

The bishop, who visited the Holy Land in 2020, said the civilian population of Gaza cannot legitimately be denied the essentials of human life such as food, water, housing, healthcare.

“To do this is a crime against humanity. This one church is a focus just now, but the whole of Gaza has been a concentration camp for Palestinians for over seventy years.”

The attack prompted Pax Christi England and Wales to urge its supporters to contact their elected representatives and the Foreign Secretary to share the story and ask that they “call for an immediate ceasefire to end the slaughter of innocent civilians.”

Neil Thorns, director of advocacy at Cafod, which is funding some of the work to support families seeking refuge at the compound, said: “Having provided refuge many times to those sheltering from Gaza’s violence, whether to Christians or those from other religions, the Holy Family compound is a place of sanctuary and should have been respected as such. It’s because it’s such a long-standing and well recognised place of worship in the area that today’s reports are all the more shocking.

“If the relentless tide of tragic news coming from the region tells us anything, it’s that no true and lasting peace can be achieved for either side through indiscriminate killing and continued warfare. We urge all those with influence to join their voices with that of Pope Francis in calling for an immediate ceasefire and the release of all hostages.”

Cafod repeated its appeals for an urgent ceasefire and launched a campaign to help the people of Gaza, where people are starving and cold, and where half the entire population is displaced with far-reaching consequences.

“We need medicines, and fuel, food and water are really desperately needed” said Elizabeth Funnell, Cafod's Country Programmes Representative for the Middle East, speaking to Sr. Nina Benedikta Krapic at Vatican News.

“The situation really has deteriorated very quickly. People are just exhausted and starving and it's increasingly difficult to get information about how people are and where they are.”



Support Cafod's Emergency Appeal.

  Loading ...
Get Instant Access
Subscribe to The Tablet for just £7.99

Subscribe today to take advantage of our introductory offers and enjoy 30 days' access for just £7.99