Gaza Christians Christmas joy, stronger than walls and prohibitions
Israel opens the holy places to Christians in the Strip. 55 visas granted, hopes for others but the number remains uncertain. The three Catholic schools are places for encounter and living together, respecting religious identity. Christ "is reason for hope". Speaking out "in a clear, fair and balanced way" and "creating work" to counter the exodus.
Gaza (AsiaNews) - Faced with a thousand requests made by the Christians of the Strip "yesterday the news of the release of 55 visas" emerged, confirming a (partial) withdrawal by Israel of the ban on visiting the holy places, including Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Gaza's parish priest Fr. Gabriel Romanelli, an Argentine priest of the Incarnate Word, confirmed the announcement made yesterday by the Israeli authorities of a relaxation of the restrictions. "Tonight - he continues - they said that they will release more, without distinction of age or sex".
There is still uncertainty about the final number of visas and new authorizations are linked to "security issues", but the hope is that "there will be many. So far, several seniors, three minors from a single family and some adults have obtained it. Let's see what will happen in the next few hours ”.
That of the Christians of the Strip, says Fr. Gabriel, is "a condition of hyper-surrealism: a thousand people, 117 of whom are Catholics, compared to a total population of 2.3 million". A reality in which "there is no possibility of moving, of perennial war, where there is also no electricity. However, despite the difficulties it is very much alive "as confirmed by the apostolic administrator himself in the context of a recent visit.
"At this moment - says the priest - you hear the festive noise of the students who have finished the exams and play in the courtyards of the parish". In the Strip there are three Catholic schools which host 2300 pupils, the majority of whom are Muslims as well as teachers; there are 200 Christians. "Muslims too - he continues - love to be educated in Catholic schools, within which there is a beautiful relationship".
The institutes are flanked by the Caritas dispensary, the houses of the nuns and other centers dedicated to charitable work. "The schools - says Fr. Gabriel - are a very lively reality, within them we do not speak about politics but we respect everyone's religious identity by placing values and true human rights at the center, in a serene climate "despite the external situation.
The Gaza Strip has repeatedly been called the largest open-air prison in the world: two million people live below the survival threshold, unemployment at 60%, poverty at 80%. And the same is true for Christian families, about 300 across the Strip, 34% of whom have no source of income.
For the visit of Msgr. Pizzaballa "we prepared a party" together with a "collection of clothes that involved young Catholic and Orthodox scouts, then distributed in poor neighborhoods. We also visited the sick, and there was the solemn mass with 12 first communions and four confirmations, a high number if compared to the total number of Catholics. Here all the new born are baptized, faith has a profound and identity value unlike elsewhere. I only need to think of Buenos Aires, my city, where the number of unbaptized people is huge."
In a difficult context, the priest underlines, "the reason for hope comes from the Lord: here there are no mountains to look up to, but really every look is turned towards heaven, from where all help comes as the psalm says". Help and comfort “do not come from the sea, they do not come from the walls, salvation does not come from the tunnels. I try to teach to look upwards, not as an escape but by going in the direction of the Lord of history. We propose the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament every day, last month we prayed the Rosary for 40 hours for peace and justice ".
Then there are projects such as the study of English or information technology, "without thinking too much about the future, but making the most of the present by focusing on spiritual and human education" to combat endemic evils "primarily unemployment reaching 70% among young people. An area in which depopulation is very strong, given that even among Muslims in the last year alone 25,000 people have fled using the Rafat crossing ".
In conclusion, the priest wants to make three requests to the world Church and to Catholics around the world: “The first is to pray for us, especially the Rosary to Our Lady for peace and justice; secondly, to make our situation known and to continue to speak about it in a clear, fair and balanced way, for the good of all. As John Paul II said, peace in the Middle East and in the world passes through here, from Jerusalem, from the Holy Land; finally, help us from a material point of view by creating job opportunities and fighting the exodus: let's not forget that Gaza is also subject to an economic, as well as political and military embargo".