GAZA – Since the early 90s of the last century, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem has had the tradition of visiting the Holy Family Parish in Gaza and celebrating Christmas Mass there, just a few days before the official date. Ever since the siege of Gaza in 2007, this visit has proven to be more needed than before and has become a means for the Church to reassure its faithful that they are not forgotten.
On Sunday, December 16, 2018, a delegation from the Latin Patriarchate headed by Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate, traveled from Jerusalem to Gaza to participate in the traditional Christmas Mass at the Holy Family Church. And for a few hours that day, the faithful who were present could forget their daily adversities and rejoice together at the birth of the Savior, with the Bishop of Jerusalem.
The visit to the parish started an hour and a half later than planned. The journey from Jerusalem to Erez checkpoint in the north of the Gaza Strip normally takes an hour by car. But due to recent and past events, Gaza has been put on high alert and the movement to and from the Strip has become more scrutinized.
Once arrived at the parish compound, the faithful greeted the delegation, alongside their parish priest Fr. Mario da Silva, his vicar Fr. Joseph As’ad and the three religious communities serving the parish and schools there; the Institute of the Incarnate Word, the Rosary Congregation and the Missionaries of Charity. As usual, a musical performance by the parish’s Scout group accompanied this occasion.
Soon after that, the Christmas Mass took place in the Church of the Holy Family. Archbishop Pizzaballa presided over the celebration alongside Bishop Boulos Marcuzzo and some priests from the Latin Patriarchate and the Institute of the Incarnate Word.
“We know very well that you are not able to visit Bethlehem with us,” pointed out Archbishop Pizzaballa in his homily, “so, we have come here today to celebrate Christmas with you.”
Every year during the holidays, the Palestinian Christians of Gaza must be granted special permits by the Israeli military authorities, in order for them to pray and make pilgrimage to Bethlehem and Jerusalem for Christmas and Easter. This year, 500 permits were approved but only 250 of them were granted.
Speaking about the meaning of Christmas, the Apostolic Administrator said that “during Advent, we always hear comforting words about peace and joy that we cannot see in our reality.” He continued, “but in order to see these words alive, we have to have faith because everything good and fruitful that we see today is the result of the faith of simple people who carried out simple acts and believed in God’s Will.”
“Christmas is a time that strengthens our faith to do fruitful things that did not exist before,” he concluded.
Following the Mass, the children of the parish showcased their talents in the different Christmas planned activities, which included acting in a Nativity play, playing musical instruments and Dabkeh dancing.