11/26/2015, 00.00
ISRAEL – PALESTINE
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With Gaza like a huge prison, Caritas Jerusalem is raising funds for Christmas gifts for Christians

The Catholic charity wants to raise US$ 50,000 to buy gifts for the Strip’s 350 Christian families who live in what the Caritas general director describes as a desperate situation, from which many want to escape. He does not want money or aid; instead, he calls on Western Christians to come “in pilgrimage” to the Holy Land, to show their tangible “closeness and solidarity”.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Fr Raed Abusahlia, general director of Caritas Jerusalem, has launched a Christmas initiative for Christian families in Gaza, which he describes as “the largest open-air prison in the world”.

Speaking to AsiaNews, he noted that the Strip is home to “two million people who can barely survive. Some 60 per cent are out of a job, and 80 per cent live under the poverty line. This is true for the territory’s 350 Christian families, 1,300 people in total, one third of whom is without any income.”

Caritas has been active in Gaza since 1990, helping both Christians and Muslims without discrimination. The organisation and its facilities, including its hospitals, are open to everyone, irrespective of religion. However, this “Christmas, we want to send a strong signal of support and solidarity to [local] Christians," Fr Raed said.

In order to provide some warmth and festive spirit, Caritas Jerusalem has launched a fundraiser called, ‘From family to family: Christmas presents for Gaza’ for the Christians who live in a territory devastated by unremitting fighting and under a total blockade imposed by Israel.

The Catholic charity’s goal is to raise US$ 50,000 to buy gifts that will be handed out on 20 December,  at the end of the Christmas Mass presided by Fouad Twal, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.

In presenting the initiative, Fr Raed noted that Christmas is a time of celebration and joy for many families, a time to exchange gifts, a time for small and big things, in particular, for the children.

Indeed, the focus is on the most unfortunate and neediest families, who, faced with economic and existential hardships, do not have enough money to exchange even a symbolic gift at a party.

In the past, Fr Raed, “we launched a campaign called ‘From hand to hand’, asking students in Christian schools in Ramallah, Jerusalem and Bethlehem to "buy a gift – a small toy, a suit – for a poor child in Gaza." Now, the goal is to "help families, Catholic, Orthodox, etc."

In Gaza, one Christian family in three "has nothing"; everything depends on aid and humanitarian groups operating in the Strip.

At the same time, through its campaign, Caritas Jerusalem wants to raise public awareness, including among Christians around the world, about the suffering of Gazan Christians, who feel "abandoned", Fr Raed said, with many "eager to escape, should the borders open one day.”

Unlike the Christians of Syria and Iraq, however, their desire to escape is not due to persecution, Hamas does not use violence. Christians go through the same difficulties as Muslim families do. The basic problem is the lack of money, work, and prospects for the future."

“Many families in Gaza count on Christmas and Easter to leave the territory for a week,” Caritas general director said. “However, such a privilege does not extend to young men aged 16 to 34. For this reason, many families are divided. The parents go to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, or Ramallah to meet relatives, whilst the children are forced to stay" in the Strip.

Lastly, Fr Raed launches an appeal to Western Christians. "We do not want money. I am not asking you to join the fundraising campaign, even if the needs are many, and increasing every day."

“I am asking you” Western Christians “to come and visit us in the Holy Land. I am asking you to take part in pilgrimages. Come here and bring your actual solidarity.”

“The permanence of the Christians in the Holy Land, in this land of ours, is not only our responsibility. Bishops and priests, encourage your faithful to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where it all began! There is no danger. Peace remains our greatest wish. Every Christian has the right, the duty and the obligation to come at least once in their life to the Holy Land". (DS)

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