06/05/2024, 14.11
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Sister Nabila: Gaza, where faith is stronger than bombs

by Dario Salvi

Yesterday at the Centro PIME in Milan, the nun spoke about the six months of brutality she experienced in Gaza. The war came on suddenly, with violence greater than in the past, which “removed the veil of human rights". Christians too are among the victims, while the Rosary Sisters' school was destroyed. Reaching out to children who have only experienced war is a challenge, especially since many have developed hyper-aggressivity.

Milan (AsiaNews) – Faith and hope "have never failed us,” even in the "terrible days" when the Israeli army "was bombing near us", near the Holy Family parish, with people from the community "wounded by shrapnel" who could not be treated "because of a lack of hospitals and medicines,” said Sister Nabila Saleh, of the Rosary Sisters, speaking to AsiaNews.

The Egyptian-born religious experienced first-hand the conflict between the Jewish state and Hamas in Gaza. She managed to leave the territory with a group of parishioners only in early April after experiencing terrible moments, like the attack on St Porphyry Greek Orthodox Church.

“We immediately ran to see how they were doing," she said, "because, as Christians, we all know each other. And again, when [Israeli snipers] killed two women in front of our eyes... I helped the daughter-in-law recover the body of the elderly woman, then we waited from noon to four in the afternoon before bringing in the second body as well.”

Unlike other wars in Gaza, which took place over a shorter period and with less intensity, this time "it came suddenly, with no forewarning, and no place that could be considered safe. This time," the nun explained, "they hit everywhere."

Israeli leaders "knew that we Christians had found shelter inside the churches; it was a shock" to realise that we were not immune to the attacks, to the bombs.

“We didn't think it would happen, like when they entered Zeitoun (the neighbourhood where the Latin parish church is located) with tanks and, behind them, snipers deliberately shooting."

Sister Nabila Saleh lived in Gaza for 13 years and experienced first-hand the violence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, although the intensity of the war triggered by the Hamas attack on 7 October is unparalleled.

She spent more than six months as a refugee in the Church of the Holy Family together with more than 650 displaced Christians, under bombs, in desperate humanitarian conditions, taking care of the most vulnerable.

Yesterday evening she recounted her experience at the Centro PIME in Milan together with other sisters, including Sister Bertilla Murj and Sister Martina Bader, from Jordan, who have worked in Gaza for a long period of time.

The “faith" shown by everybody was "the source of our hope. During the bombings we went to church and prayed the rosary, with people shouting, crying, and praying," not knowing if they would survive.

“For me, those were very hard months,” the nun said. But she learnt that "nothing in the world is worth it, only the Lord. Not riches, things of which nothing remains. I tried to represent the faith that comes from the Lord, to have hope, even if I was afraid and cried.”

The value of life is even greater “when you see bodies and devastation all around you, people buried, others dying for lack of care" even from illnesses that can be easily treated elsewhere.

Children are the first to suffer, something Sister Nabila knows too well. Her order established a school in Gaza, appreciated by the whole community, attended mostly by Muslim pupils, including children of some Hamas leaders.

“Children have lived through five wars in just a few years, bearing the brunt. Just think of a 10-year-old boy who has only known violence. In schools we encounter hyperaggressive behaviour, which is why we have started educational programmes to address the problem. During the months of fighting, we tried to make them play, despite the horrors.”

The Rosary Sisters' own school suffered serious bombing damage; at least three million dollars will be needed just to fix the walls. Three teachers and several students are among the 37,000 casualties of the war.

“In the parish we tried to organise lessons, but it was impossible because of the intensity of the attacks. What future can we imagine for these children?” wonders Sister Nabila.

The nun left the Strip in early April, together with a group of Christians, travelling from Gaza City to the Rafah crossing, not without risks and dangers.

“It has been a very hard few months. At the start, only the King of Jordan sent some aid from the sky and our young people risked their lives to recover it."

The visit of Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa and the return of the parish priest Fr Gabriel Romanelli in mid-May were among the few moments of joy and consolation. But "the deputy parish priest, Fr Yousef Asad, did a great job."

"Of course, the presence of the cardinal was very important. Seeing that the head of the Church had the courage to visit, even in such hard times, was a source of grace; it instilled courage despite the strong desire to flee.”

Asked what the people of Gaza want now, Sister Nabila says without hesitation: "Peace! It's very hard to live in war all the time. We miss the voices that really work for peace."

Pope Francis "always calls for it, but the powerful have done nothing about it. All Gazans say that, with this war, the veil of human rights has fallen. Both peoples have the right to live in peace.”

Hopefully, “this war will close the book on all wars. People today don't think about Hamas or Fatah, they think about how to stay alive tomorrow, how to feed their children.”

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