05/20/2024, 15.08
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Parish priest in Gaza: the desire to rebuild stronger than the destruction of war

by Fr. Gabriel Romanelli *

Fr. Romanelli entrusts his testimony to AsiaNews on his return after 7 months in the Strip: not a house is "intact", but we must look to the future. In the homily of the Pentecost Mass Card. Pizzaballa to the Christians of Gaza: "I have never heard a word of anger" from you, this is the "sign of your strength". The visit to a bakery destroyed by the war and recently reopened, which offers work to Christians and Muslims. 

Gaza City (AsiaNews) - "We do not want power, but we ask to be strong" and even if there is a feeling of "tiredness, of deep weariness" for these months of war, in reality "you are strong" because during the discussions I have had with you, I have never heard a single word of anger. This is the clearest sign of your strength'. With these words, the Patriarch of Jerusalem of the Latins, Card. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, addressed the Christian community of Gaza during the Pentecost Mass celebrated yesterday. The cardinal concluded the three-day unexpected but long-awaited visit by himself and the faithful of the Holy Family to the Strip tormented by the conflict launched by Israel against Hamas in response to the attack on 7 October. And which has caused deep devastation and dozens of victims even among Catholics. 

"I have come," he continued in his homily, "to bear witness first of all to my personal love and also to the love of the whole Church, united to our strong commitment to support you, and help you, in every possible way. "You are isolated," he added, "but you are not alone. May the Holy Spirit descend upon us all. May he descend in particular on our two young men who will be confirmed. May he descend upon us all and give us the strength to live in these special circumstances not only to stay and resist, but to be the future of our children here in Gaza."

Card. Pizzaballa observed with his own eyes the destruction, homes reduced to a pile of rubble and families mourning the innocent dead. "I have really appreciated your welcome and your attitude" and, although he noted much "weariness about this situation" and that "not a single house has remained intact", he urged not to look only at the past but to turn to the "future: the future," the cardinal concluded, "is that of homes, of schools, especially schools for children". Education and work, starting with one of the primary goods and staple food of everyday life: bread. During the days spent in the Strip, Card. Pizzaballa visited and blessed the bakery 'Of Families' in Gaza, severely damaged by bombing and recently reopened thanks also to the support and contribution of the Latin Patriarchate. It was established in 1984 thanks to the initiative of Bishara Shehadeh and offers work to Christians and Muslims. 

The cardinal's visit was also an opportunity to allow the return of the Holy Family parish priest, Fr Gabriel Romanelli, a priest of the Incarnate Word who was in Bethlehem in the days when the war began and was unable to return. The priest gives AsiaNews a brief account of the community's situation and hopes for the future. "The people," he emphasises, "are serene, even if there is a strong feeling of exhaustion, of depression, but it is equally true that many have the desire to resume life, to rebuild, others are thinking of starting a life outside again, albeit with great pain".

Below is Fr Romanelli's testimony to AsiaNews:

We found the Christian community in Gaza in fairly good condition, as good as they can be after more than seven months of war and with a conflict that is still ongoing. 

We have more than 500 people in the compound of the Holy Family parish, counting Mother Teresa's children. 

The people are serene, even if there is a strong feeling of exhaustion, of depression, but it is equally true that many want to start life again, to rebuild, others are thinking of starting a life outside, albeit with great pain. All of them loved, and love, their land. In the Christian community, in fact, there are many who have always lived here in the strip and are attached to it. Then there are Christians who were refugees from other places, from Jerusalem, from Jaffa or Tel Aviv, from Migdalia and Ashkelon, those who lost their homes and had to leave because of the wars of the past. 

However, many Christians are originally from Gaza and feel they belong to this land. That is why for some of them there is great pain at the thought of leaving, while others want to stay. 

The city is very much affected and bears the signs of the conflict, hardly a building can be seen that has not been hit, that has been spared by the bombs. 

We as a parish continue with our activities, first of all with our spiritual life, thanks to Fr Yusuf [Assad, the vice-parish priest] who for all these months has stayed with the faithful and even now will be here with me. I will remain in the parish, Fr Carlos Ferrero our provincial [of the Congregation of the True Incarnate] also came with me. And let's not forget the sisters: a new sister also came with Pilares Ocorro, Sr Maria "Maravillas" de Jesus, an Argentinean who will remain here as a testimony to a living reality that continues with its activities. We have already restarted the oratory, some lessons to start doing activities with the children even if it is not a real school. However, we are trying to do many other initiatives with the help of many children and, above all, the younger families. 

The visit of the Patriarch [Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa] was wonderful, it ended [yesterday] with Pentecost and the administration of the sacrament of Confirmation to two boys from the parish. All this is a sign of hope, even the people were very happy to see us again and to know that I am back and that I am staying here, with God's help. 

* Parish priest of the Holy Family in Gaza

(Photo by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem)

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