His Beatitude will be in the Strip from 14 to 17 June meeting ordinary people and officials. Communions and confirmations will be held tomorrow. The patriarch visited a school damaged in the latest round of violence. For Fr Romanelli, “tensions remain high”, but a desire to rebuild prevails.
Gaza (AsiaNews) – The visit by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa to Gaza is a moment of community celebration, of taking stock of the huge difficulties faced by the Strip’s Christian community, and an opportunity to boost dialogue and exchange with the Muslim majority.
The recent devastating conflict between Hamas and Israel will require rebuilding, starting with schools and people, especially children. This can heal the inner wounds caused by the conflict and provide new opportunities to study and work as well as offer a professional, social and spiritual rebirth.
Patriarch Pizzaballa began his pastoral visit to Gaza yesterday, which will last until Thursday, a month after the short but bloody war between Israel and Hamas (supported by Islamic Jihad).
The violence claimed hundreds of lives and added to the despair of a people already living in what amounts to an open-air prison.
Fr Gabriel Romanelli welcomed His Beatitude. The Argentine priest from the Incarnate Word heads Gaza’s Holy Family parish, a community of a few hundred members who make up in spirituality and enthusiasm what they lack in numbers.
Despite the hardships of the past few weeks, the Latin Patriarchate repeatedly expressed its closeness to the Christians of the Strip, devolving Sunday Mass offerings to support their needs.
One of the highlights of the four-day pastoral visit will be tomorrow’s celebration of the sacraments of communion and confirmation for some youthful members of the parish.
The Patriarch will also visit the families who saw their homes destroyed in the recent violence.
“Things are still tense after the fighting,” Fr Romanelli told AsiaNews during one of the few free moments he had during the Patriarch's visit. “There are rumours that the truce may not hold,” he lamented. “Let’s hope this is not true.”
Tensions are running high over today’s ‘flag march’ by Israeli nationalists in the Palestinian side of Jerusalem.
“Some groups have already said that they consider this possibility a provocation and will not tolerate it because that part of the city belongs to the Palestinian people. In short, tensions remain high.”
Despite everything, “activities have resumed in the streets of Gaza. Residents are used to conflict, four in just over 10 years, and right after the bombs, they rebuild.
“In this situation the Patriarch’s visit is very welcome, for Christians and Muslims alike, because it represents a moment of celebration and spiritual deepening,” Fr Romanelli explained.
“When he arrived he was greeted by a typical Palestinian dance, followed by Our Father and the Hail Mary in Arabic.”
One of yesterday’s highlights was the visit to the school of the Latin Patriarchate in Gaza, the Strip’s first Catholic school, which is located in a working class neighbourhood, right after a meeting with the Sisters of Mother Teresa, who work with 75 people with disabilities.
“Everyone loves and appreciates he Catholic school,” Fr Romanelli said, “because it represents a message of peace, hope, and justice.”
During his stay, “His Beatitude urged the faithful not to lose faith.” He noted that “supporting the schools is fundamental to the development of future generations, in freedom and peace.”
Although the school suffered damage in the latest conflict, it will be repaired before the start of the next school year.
“Parents are grateful for the presence of the Church and the closeness of the Patriarch, who insisted on material, moral and spiritual rebuilding.
For Fr Romanelli, “We are people, not numbers or statistics, and the traumas of war are visible not only in children and adolescents, but also in adults.”