GAZA - From June 14- 17, 2021, His Beatitude Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa went on a pastoral visit to the Christian Community in the Gaza Strip, where he met with many Christian families, visited schools, institutions, and administered the Sacraments of Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation to the children of the Holy Family Parish. The 4-day visit of the Bishop of Jerusalem aimed to express closeness and offer encouragement to the Palestinian Christians, who not only endured psychological traumas during last May’s war and bombardments, but also had their properties destroyed.
On the first day, the Latin Patriarch and the accompanying delegation visited the Latin Patriarchate and the Rosary Sisters schools. At the Rosary Sisters school, they met with about 150 parents after which they inspected the damages that were sustained to the buildings and some of the solar system panels. At the moment, costs of repair are estimated to reach $340,000, which might increase after a further inspection of the damages at the school compound.
After visiting the Missionaries of Charity, who are entrusted with the care of disabled children, the Patriarch met with the beneficiaries of the job creation and capacity building program. The program, which was started by the Latin Patriarchate in 2018 with only 20 young people, now benefits over 70 of the youth working in religious, educational, social, medical and development institutions. The project is considered a lifeline in an area where the unemployment rate has not dropped below 40% since 2014. In the second quarter of 2020, the unemployment rate of young women (aged 15-29) reached 92%, compared to 63.2% for young men in the same age group.
The second day of the visit included meetings at Caritas Medical Center and Thomas Aquinas Training Center, where the Patriarch blessed a fountain of the Virgin Mary. If the job creation program provides the Christian youth with opportunities to gain work experience and support themselves financially, the Thomas Aquinas Center provides them with training courses in capacity building, English language skills, computer science and personnel management with the aim to enhance their professional capacities and support their career development in a Christian environment.
Patriarch Pizzaballa then met with the faculty, staff and the students at the Holy Family School. In light of the recent devastating events, they made several requests that the Patriarch agreed on, which included a 15% reduction in school fees for the year 2020-2021 and the provision of psycho-social support for teachers, students and parents before the start of the next academic year. They also conveyed their gratitude to the Patriarchate for having implemented the Edunation platform at the Latin Patriarchate school and Holy Family school, which proved effective during the COVID-19 related lockdowns.
The school meeting was followed by a visit to the sick and elderly and examining the damages that were inflicted upon their houses.
Earlier in the morning of the third day, sounds of blasts originating from a few hundred meters could be heard from the residence of the Latin Patriarchate delegation. “It was not easy to wake up at 1:09 a.m on the sound of blasts that shook the building,” said Sami El-Yousef, CEO of the Latin Patriarchate.
The rest of the day, the Patriarch and the delegation were able to see firsthand the destruction of the infrastructure in the city and spend time with some of the families that were personally affected by the war. Fifty Christian families have suffered from varying degrees of damage to their houses, 32 of them are being supported and helped by the Latin Patriarchate.
On May 25, and as a sign of solidarity, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem launched an aid appeal and requested parishes and churches to dedicate Sunday’s collection for the Christian Community of Gaza. “The appeal I sent has really paid off,” said Patriarch Pizzaballa. “More than $60,000 were received from the regions of Palestine and Israel”. Half of the aid appeal will be allocated to the damage repair of Rosary Sisters School and compound.
The day concluded with Patriarch Pizzaballa administering the Sacraments to 23 children at the Holy Family Church; 19 of whom had received the First Communion, three were confirmed, and one child was baptised.
For four days, the Bishop of Jerusalem and his delegation have seen ruined infrastructures and heard agonizing stories of the Gazan Christians. In an interview with Patriarch Pizzaballa, he said: “To our Christians, I say, first of all, you are not alone! We are here, that is why we have come, to express our closeness in concrete terms. Secondly, do not lose courage. I have noticed fatigue; the wounds of the war are still open, especially the psychological ones. I have noticed that the word 'trauma' is used very often, something I did not hear before. A very strong trauma. So don't lose courage, don't lose hope."