01/26/2009, 00.00
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Christians of Gaza, back to normal amid fear and frustration

The schools of the patriarchate are being reopened, and families are trying to find out how their friends and relatives are doing. Fr. Musallam, pastor in Gaza City: "Something very different from humanitarian aid is needed to bring back joy." Yesterday, the Greek Orthodox community returned to church for the first time after spending Christmas beneath the bombing.

Gaza (AsiaNews) - "We are trying to come back to life, but it is really difficult." Fr. Manawel Musallam, pastor of Holy Family parish in Gaza City, explains to AsiaNews the situation of the tiny Catholic community, in these days of "relative peace" in the Strip. "Like everyone else, our families have also lost their homes or suffered incalculable damage. These have been terrible, shocking days. Now it is truly difficult to return to normalcy. We have reopened the three schools of the patriarchate, and the children have started coming back, but everything is in short supply. One of the buildings was also bombed, and it's more difficult there than at the others. More than anything else, these days have been an opportunity to start visiting each other again, finding out about our friends and relatives."

Fr. Musallam is discouraged and embittered. "We are trying to help each other; sisters, religious, families are doing the best they can, but we do not simply need food. The destruction of buildings is minimal compared to what our people have suffered in their hearts. Every form of aid is helpful, but something very different from humanitarian assistance is needed to bring back joy. There is still the fear that from one moment to the next, Israel could begin bombing again, and the frustration of ending up being treated always as slaves."

The Orthodox community, 3,000 people who make up the majority of the Christians in the Strip, is also trying to return to normalcy. As archbishop Alexy, the bishop of Gaza, explains, yesterday "was the first day on which many of the faithful were able to return to church after the ceasefire."

The Israeli bombings prevented the community from celebrating Christmas, which fell on January 7, and now it is trying to recover in some way. "I have been living in the Holy Land for 42 years," says the Greek Orthodox bishop, "and I have lived through all of the wars, but this has been the most difficult." His community has not gone unharmed: three people have died, including a young woman.

The Orthodox have also reopened the schools and other buildings connected to the church. Archbishop Alexy attributes great importance to these projects, in order to strengthen ties with the Islamic majority. Many Muslims send their children to schools run by the Orthodox, and the encounter among the families is an opportunity to overcome the lack of understanding and mistrust that in the past have even generated violence and attacks against Christian centers in the Strip.

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