A man embraces Palestinian children as people search for casualties at the site of an Israeli airstrike on a residential building in Gaza City. OSV News photo/Yasser Qudih, Reuters

Christians fear for Holy Land future

  • November 16, 2023

Despite a looming threat of being displaced forever from the Holy Land, the Christian community in Gaza is staying faithful to its commitment to help compatriots in facing an increasingly serious humanitarian crisis as war consumes all around them.

“We at the Jerusalem Office (of the pontifical charity Catholic Near East Welfare Association or CNEWA) expect that many Christians will leave as soon as they get a chance after the war,” regional director Joseph Hazboun told The Catholic Register. “There is talk about this among the Christians taking refuge at two churches. Who can blame them? A 15-year-old teenager has already lived through seven wars — 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2019, 2021 and this current horrible one.”

But undeterred by personal grief and the death and destruction they witness every day, the bravest in the Christian community have not wavered from their commitment to provide aid and relief from the ravages of war to people of all faith backgrounds.   

Rami Tarazi is a young Palestinian Christian, and a graduate of CNEWA’s leadership program. But despite the death and destruction he sees all around him, as Israel seeks to destroy Hamas which launched a surprise attack on October 7, Tarazi pursues his works of mercy and goes fearlessly to the aid of people struggling for their survival on a day-to-day basis.

“Some of the elderly members of the community required insulin that ran out from the convent where they were sheltering,” said Hazboun, Tarazi’s supervisor. “Rami and a doctor from the (Christian) community drove to Salah Addi Street, to a pharmacy 300 metres away from the Israeli tanks, and got 10 supplements. They are risking their lives to safeguard the community entrusted to them and provide their immediate needs.”

Tarazi is constantly on the lookout for opportunities to feed the community that’s on the brink of starvation, Hazboun added.

“On his way (to deliver the insulin) Rami ran into a young man driving his donkey cart with some canned food and supplies. When he learned that it was for sale, he accompanied him to the church and unloaded the goods to feed the community,” Hazboun said.

Tarazi reported to Hazboun that as he continued his errands of mercy, he was able to watch dozens of people, walking on foot heading to the southern areas of the Gaza Strip, raising their hands and lifting white flags or shirts.

“It was a painful sight to watch families, mothers and children and seniors as they appealed for an end to the war,” Tarazi told Hazboun.

The regional director shared more details of the desperate plight of Gaza Christians trapped in a war from which no escape is in sight.

 “All the bakeries in their area had run out of flour or were hit by missiles, so the community was baking on a daily basis providing a loaf of bread for each family,” he said. “Some days their only meal is a bowl of lentil soup.”

Another Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need, reported that one month after the outbreak of the war, the consequences for the small Christian community in Gaza can only be described as terrible.

“Particularly disheartening was the loss of the Catholic school of the Holy Rosary Sisters, an institution which had become a symbol of both the Christian presence in Gaza and the Latin Catholic Church’s work in the field of education,” Maria Lozano, director of ACN’s International Press and Media Department, wrote in a press release.

On Nov. 4, Sr. Nabila Saleh, a Sister of the Holy Rosary who was the principal of the school, received the devastating news that the building had been hit.

“I am heartbroken,” Saleh told ACN. “The large outdoor playground was damaged, as was a nearby infrastructure, and one of the buildings collapsed.”

Fortunately, the buildings had been evacuated by the Sisters a few days after the beginning of the war. Since then, two of the Holy Rosary Sisters have been residing in the Parish of the Holy Family in another neighbourhood of Gaza City, where there is a church, a convent and a small school.

And like Tarazi, Saleh refuses to abandon her people in their hour of need. She and her colleague are helping five other religious sisters and a priest care for 750 displaced Christians, including 100 children and 70 people with special needs.

Confirming her decision to remain with the community until the end, she said, “We will not go and leave our people. We are here to accompany them and we cannot possibly abandon them.”

Asked if there was any possibility of restoring and reopening the Rosary Sister’s School, Hazboun told The Catholic Register that in a telephone conversation with Saleh, she had said,“My first concern is to pray that we will be safe and alive when this war ends, then we can discuss rehabilitating and reopening the school.”

Hazboun, too, is deeply concerned about the future of CNEWA, other Christian charities and of the entire Christian community in the Holy Land.

“If the Christian presence comes to an end, who will run the 17 Christian institutions?” he asked.

Pleading for an immediate ceasefire and an end to the suffering of innocent civilians he added, “I can’t imagine how Gaza will look when all this ends. How will we find our partner institutions? How many homes, apartments will still be standing? How many among our Christian community members will be able to call Gaza home?”

Last modified on November 21, 2023

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