Gaza’s only Catholic priest calls Israel-Gaza violence ‘extremely serious’

By Blanca Ruiz for CNA

Theodosios (Atallah Hanna), the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Sebastia, delivers a speech during a demonstration in Beit Jala in the West Bank May 17, 2021 to express solidarity with Gaza and Sheikh Jarah. Credit: Hazem Bader/AFP via Getty Images.

Gaza City, May 17, 2021 / 13:38 pm (CNA).

The sole Catholic priest in the Gaza Strip has warned of the severity of the recent violence between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

More than 200 people have died in Gaza, 59 of whom are children, the BBC reports. In Israel, 10 have died, of whom two are children.

Israel is conducting air strikes on Gaza, while militants from Hamas, the Islamist movement which has ruled the territory since 2007, are firing rockets at Israel.

Tens of thousands of Gaza residents have been displaced by the violence, and both hospitals and schools have been destroyed in the territory.

Fr. Gabriel Romanelli is the pastor of Holy Family parish, the only Catholic parish in the Gaza Strip. The priest told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner, “the situation in the Gaza Strip is very bad. Day and night we’re bombarded. The bombing usually only takes place at night and during the day life is more or less normal. But these days, both day and night, there is bombing, rockets from the strip and the Israeli response, with planes and tanks.”

“Currently there is constant bombing. Even when it stops, the silence is strange and makes you feel like you’re in the eye of the hurricane,” he said.

The priest noted that since November 2019 there has been no “talk of war” in the area and even “material progress, there were more businesses and the housing was better.” However, after the start of the attacks, the situation is “very uncertain.”

“There is no neighborhood or city that hasn’t been hit, some very hard. And the Israeli authorities state that as long as the aggression continues they will continue to bomb and the Palestinians also say that as long as the (Israeli) advance doesn’t let up, they will continue to respond,” the priest explained.

“Our parish is a very small but beautiful and strong community. The Greek Orthodox also come. There are 133 of us Catholics, including 13 religious from the Incarnate Word community. We fan out to make contact with the families, so both Catholics and Orthodox, as well as poor Muslim families, feel the spiritual and material closeness of the parish to them,” Fr. Romanelli told ACI Prensa.

The Incarnate Word priest said the difficulties faced by the people in the Gaza Strip for decades should not be forgotten, because they “have suffered from an embargo of all kinds of things for years, which is why it’s called the largest open-air prison in the world.”

Faced with the serious difficulties being experienced in the Gaza Strip, Fr. Romanelli encouraged people to pray and offer sacrifices for peace so “the governing authorities and those who have the ability to conclude a truce in this situation are enlightened to do so.”

The priest stressed the importance of sending material aid “through official channels such as the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, or Catholic charitable associations, which are very effective.”

The latest round of violence began after clashes last month between Israelis and Palestinians at al-Aqsa Mosque, which is built on the Temple Mount. Hamas urged Israel to withdraw soldiers from the site, fired rockets May 10 when this did not happen, and Israel returned air strikes.

Israel has said more than 3,000 rockets have been fired at it in the past week. About 90 percent of the rockets have been intercepted by its Iron Dome defense system.

In May 2019, a similar bout of rockets from Gaza and air strikes by Israel killed about 30 Gazans and four Israelis.

The Gaza Strip is home to about 2 million people. There are about 1,000 Christians in the territory; most of these are Eastern Orthodox, and about 100 are Catholics.


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