29 February 2024, The Tablet

Gaza’s Christians suffer ‘Way of the Cross’ says parish priest

“Without reconciliation and forgiveness, things will not change. We will remain in the cycle of violence and revenge.”

Gaza’s Christians suffer ‘Way of the Cross’ says parish priest

Fr Gabriel Romanelli IVE said that those sheltering in the Holy Family Parish are “tired, sad, and heartbroken”.
Facebook Gabriel Romanelli / ACI Prensa / CNA

Christians in Gaza are living a “Way of the Cross”, according to the parish priest of the Holy Family Parish in Gaza City.

Fr Gabriel Romanelli IVE has not been able to return to Gaza since 7 October 2023 but maintains regular contact with the parish. He reported that Christians sheltering in the only Catholic church in the Gaza Strip face worsening conditions as Israeli forces intensify raids ahead of a ground offensive in Rafah.

Israel has ordered civilians to evacuate the Zaitun neighbourhood, where the Holy Family Parish is located.

After more than four months of war, the roughly 600 Christians sheltering in the compound (who include Orthodox Christians from the neighbouring St Porphyrius Greek Orthodox Church, which was hit by an Israeli airstrike in October) are “tired, sad, and heartbroken”.  

Airstrikes have destroyed the local Rosary Sisters School and over half of Gaza’s hospitals have been forced to close. Palestinians killed by Israeli attacks on Gaza now exceed 29,000, with over 69,000 injured, according to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health.  Around 600,000 Palestinian children in Rafah face the risk of starvation.

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, called the violence “one of the most terrible periods of the last decades”, warning that “it seems to us that there is no way out” but that this was “one of the temptations of the devil”.

“Even in this terrible situation, it’s possible to talk about hope and reconciliation,” he said, in a Lenten message to the UK charity Friends of the Holy Land.

“Reconciliation needs time, but it’s very important to keep alive in our hearts the desire for reconciliation and forgiveness. Without reconciliation and forgiveness, things will not change. We will remain in the cycle of violence and revenge that we’re seeing during these terrible days.”

The ecumenical “We Choose Abundant Life” (WCAL) group has said that Palestinians are suffering “unbearable and inhuman atrocities”.  

The group, made up of analysts, theologians and pastoral workers, published a document “Renewed Commitment to Justice, Peace and Human Dignity” on 15 February, emphasising that the war in the Holy Land “not only highlights the capacity for human violence, demonising and dehumanising the Other, but also underscores a profound moral crisis that challenges us, not just as Christians but as human beings”.

WCAL called on the international community to implement a just peace in the region, and said that Churches must participate in fostering this, rather than “keeping silent or turning a blind eye to practices that infringe on human freedom and dignity”, or echoing the official policies of the countries where they operate.

On 23 February, the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner released a report that said UN experts have demanded a halt to arms exports to Israel.  

They said that “any transfer of weapons or ammunition to Israel that would be used in Gaza is likely to violate international humanitarian law and must cease immediately”. The statement said that all states have a responsibility to “ensure respect” for international humanitarian law by parties to an armed conflict, under the 1949 Geneva Conventions and international law.

The World Council of Churches’ ecumenical accompaniers have reported mounting settler violence in the West Bank. Last week, a Community Peacemaker Team visited the South Hebron Hills region and recorded that “wherever settlers see a chance to expand their illegal settlements, they grow more abusive and relentless”.

They added that “to make things worse, the lines between settlers and the military are increasingly blurred, where settlers carry automatic firearms and don uniforms that mimic military attire”. 

There have been more than 500 incidents of Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians recorded by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs between 7 October 2023 and 20 February 2024.

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