GAZA – In Gaza, during the recent pastoral visit of Archbishop Pizzaballa, the Media Office of the Latin Patriarchate interviewed Fr. Gabriel Romanelli, IVE, parish priest for about two months of the Holy Family Church. He spoke with us about the condition of the small local Catholic community.
Good day, Father Gabriel. How long have you been here in Gaza?
I have been here for two months. I have already been in Gaza 15 years ago and served the parish for about 3 and a half years and have now returned two months ago as parish priest.
And tell us about the situation you found?
I found a very sad situation compared with fifteen years ago. At that time there were 3500 Christians, while now they are less than 1000 of about two million and two hundred thousand total inhabitants, so the percentage is very low. It means that in the last 15 years so many Christians from Gaza went to other places in the Holy Land or abroad.
You also have experience in the West Bank.
Yes, I was in Beit Jala for 14 years. The faith of this community is the same as that of the West Bank, however people’s feelings change, especially concerning the future; living in Gaza means not having the possibility of movement, for example, at Christmas and Easter. The Palestinian Christians of Gaza are descendants of the first Christians in the same way as the Christians of Beit Sahour, Bethlehem, and Ramallah, etc. And yet, at Christmas they cannot be in Bethlehem, nor at Easter can they come to Jerusalem. They feel a sense of powerlessness that often discourages them because they feel they are strangers in their land.
Speak to us about the Christian community of Gaza. How have you found it?
The situation of the Christian community that I found is almost paradoxical, on the one hand, there is depression, sadness, the wish to go away; on the other hand, I found numerous initiatives that are very good, for examples those promoted by Father Mario Da Silva, then parish priest in Gaza, who worked very well here for seven years. Of the many spiritual and social initiatives that he carried out, one is the formation of young Christians so that they may be more prepared, and they feel more rooted in their faith, an initiative that evolved with the search for collaboration and help with the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, whose support for the creation of workplaces has been enormous. Among Christians is a strong desire to find a better future elsewhere. However, this community experiences that the Church is present, so much that some of them have decided to remain.
How are you organized for Christmas?
Usually, the parish of Gaza is organized in two ways: the first is the feast of the evening of the 24th, the night of Christmas; knowing however that many Christians could go outside (to Bethlehem), here in Gaza we also celebrate a Christmas feast in advance with the Patriarch of Jerusalem – now with the Apostolic Administrator acting on his behalf. Archbishop Pizzaballa came in these days just to celebrate Christmas with us. So, for the occasion, we organized the visit to all home-bound sick and meetings with Catholic and Orthodox Christians living in the Strip and with young people. Then the blessing of the Saint Thomas Aquinas Center, the new wing of the Caritas Center and the great feast of Christmas with twelve First Communions and four for the Sacrament of Confirmation, which is an enormous thing for us! Suffice it to say that the Catholic community counts just 117 persons. Then there was the blessing of the boys on the verge of taking the Tawjihi, namely, those who finish high school to enter the university; after that, the sacred representation of the living crib made by children, which was very well done. Now that everything has ended, we are pleased with what we experienced. For Christmas night we hope to be very few to celebrate here! Why? Because it would mean that the majority of our local Christians have managed to reunite with the rest of their families and friends at the Bethlehem Mass.
Interview conducted by Filippo De Grazia