06/19/2007, 00.00
PALESTINE
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Gaza priest slams barbaric attack against Sisters of the Rosary

Fr Manuel Musallam tells AsiaNews about the destruction of the sisters’ convent and chapel by unknown thugs during the war between Hamas and Fatah. Christians and Muslims express their solidarity. “Please, pray for us!” he says. “We have had it with war, murderers and occupation, with the humiliation of the people!”

Gaza (AsiaNews) – “A barbaric act” is how Fr Manuel Musallam, parish priest in Gaza, described the ransacking and looting of the Convent of the Sisters of the Rosary. Furniture, chairs, doors were destroyed; the chapel was violated and the holy images and sacred books were burnt.

The only Catholic priest in the Gaza Strip, the 69-year-old Father Manuel is in charge of the Holy Family Church in Gaza. Speaking to AsiaNews, the voice of a muezzin could be heard in the background calling the faithful to midday prayer.  “The people who did this barbaric act are trying to get us Christians involved in the struggle between Hamas and Fatah, but we are not scared of them.”

The convent was looted last Thursday as the two major Palestinian factions were going at each other. The building itself is were close to a major security headquarters in Gaza City, now occupied by Hamas.

“A group of unknown people attacked, burnt and looted the nuns’ building. They destroyed everything inside and stole the computers,” Father Manuel said. “They then invade the chapel, broke the furniture, burnt the sacred images and holy books. They threw the Sacred Species to the ground and destroyed everything on their path: beds, chairs, tables, curtains, shooting at the walls and setting them on fire. We don’t know who the thugs were because they came at night when the sisters were not present.”

Father Manuel is reluctant to talk about persecution. Instead, he said that “our relations with the Muslims are not only good, they are excellent. I don’t think what happened came from a direct order from Hamas or Fatah. In the past when the Church had difficulties, they came to our defence—for example, when there were demonstrations against the Muhammad cartoons or after the Pope’s speech in Regensburg.”

As proof he said that “just this morning at least a hundred people, both Christian and Muslim, came to see me. Even Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas phoned me from Ramallah to express friendship and his strong condemnation.”

“The whole Gaza community is close to us. Two Hamas minister came to visit the convent and the school run by the sisters and promised to repair all the damage. Some religious sheikhs also came today. Whoever did it was armed. The doors of the convent were knocked open with mortars. It shows how barbaric they and their attempt to make troubles between Christians and Muslims are.”

In Gaza there are five sisters of the Rosary; three run the school (a kindergarten and an elementary school) of about 500 pupils.

“It is a service that the families appreciate very much,” said Father Manuel. “In our parish we also have a school for 1,200 pupils of every background. Even local fundamentalists send their children to our school which is considered the best in the area,” he added.

Significantly, the Church is also present with four Little Sisters of the Père de Foucauld and six missionaries of Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity.

“As Christians our presence in Gaza is discreet,” he explained, “But please pray for us. We need your spiritual support but also an answer to the difficulties people face: hunger, joblessness, tension. We are tired. The pressures under which we suffer every day are above all a burden on the heart, on families. Then we have the violence outside. To build peace, we need to heal and give peace to the heart.”

“Palestinians have suffered too much. We need a stable situation. We have lived under occupation, with difficulties and pressures and all this causes violence. We are in a spiral of violence that is out of control, growing day after day, because this nation does not have peace. We have had it with war, murderers and occupation, with the humiliation of our people!”

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