Sister Nabila Saleh, a member of the Congregation of the Rosary, participates in Mass at the Holy Family Catholic Church in Gaza. There are only some 3,000 Christians in Gaza, of which a little more than 200 are Catholic. CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey

Pope Francis calls Gaza parish staff as bombing continues

  • October 17, 2023

VATICAN CITY -- Huddled in a stairwell at the Catholic parish and school in Gaza, Rosary Sister Nabila Saleh, another sister and Father Youssef Asaad filmed themselves speaking to Pope Francis on the phone and begging for his continued prayers.

Pope Francis phoned Holy Family parish -- the only Catholic parish in Gaza -- the evening of Oct. 15, Vatican News reported. Sister Saleh said Father Asaad passed her the phone because he doesn't speak Italian as well as she does.

After Hamas launched attacks on Israel Oct. 7 and Israel responded by bombing targets in Gaza, "the Holy Father wanted to know how many people we are hosting in the parish facilities," Sister Saleh told Vatican News. There are about 500 people, including "the sick, families, children, the disabled, people who have lost their homes and every belonging."

"It was a great blessing to be able to speak with him," Sister Saleh said. "He gave us courage and the support of prayer."

They asked the pope to keep making appeals for peace, she said, and they told him they would offer their sufferings as a prayer for peace, for the needs of the church and for the assembly of the Synod of Bishops.

"Our parishioners were very happy. They know that the pope is working for peace and for the good of the Christian community in Gaza," she said.

"We want peace because war helps no one," she told Vatican News.

"We ask for justice, justice and peace," Sister Saleh said. "The Palestinian people also have a right to live. We ask that they not punish the whole population because of a group of fanatics."

The people sheltering at the parish and school and other Catholics staying nearby are helping one another as best they can, she said.

Local Catholics, she said, are showing great faith in God. "We are learning from them," she added.

Mass is celebrated at Holy Family twice a day, she said, and the people are constantly praying the rosary.

At the evening Mass Oct. 15, she said, they celebrated the baptism of a baby. "The mom was afraid something horrible could happen and requested the baptism of her son. It was a moment of spiritual resurrection and rebirth for all of us."

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