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Gaza Strip’s Christians taking refuge in area’s only Catholic church

Family drives through rubble of Gaza Strip


John Burger - published on 10/12/23

Pastor joins voices of those warning of devastating effect of Israel's siege on Palestinian territory.

There are fewer than 1,100 Catholics living in the Gaza Strip. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the 2 million people packed into the small territory. 

The area along the Mediterranean is under siege and bombardment by the Israeli military, following the attack on Israel by Hamas last Saturday.

Holy Family parish of Gaza comes under the jurisdiction of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. In an interview on the LPJ website, Holy Family’s pastor, Fr. Gabriel Romanelli, said on Wednesday that some 200 parishioners are taking shelter in the church, monastery, St. Thomas Aquinas Center, Holy Family School, along with several congregations of women religious: Sisters of the Incarnate Word, the Rosary Sisters, and Sisters of Charity. 

“Many of them are currently being welcomed by the Church, particularly the residents of the Rimal area, which has been subjected to violent bombardment,” said Fr. Romanelli, a missionary with the Institute of the Incarnate Word, a congregation established in his homeland, Argentina. “I was informed that four of our Christian families have lost their homes, destroyed by the war. They are currently staying in the church building.”  

Fr. Romanelli told the unnamed interviewer that he is not currently at his parish, and is unable to get back to the Gaza Strip, although the assistant pastor, Fr. Joseph, is there. He addressed concerns about shortages of vital supplies, as Israel has cut off electricity, water, fuel, and medicines.

“In fact, we are faced with a shortage,” the priest said. “We are trying to divide the supplies among ourselves to sustain us as long as possible. Regarding the electricity situation, just like the rest of Gaza’s citizens, we have limited access to electricity throughout the day; it comes for a short period. Unfortunately, fuel is almost running out and there are speculations that there will be an electricity outage across the Gaza Strip. We do not have enough water, so we are using it wisely and mostly just for drinking. As everyone knows and sees through the news, due to the destruction and devastations left by the war, there are barely any supplies left, and they are mostly non-existent. Hence, we are not able to buy anything or meet the needs of the people.”

Siege vs. hostages

The International Committee of the Red Cross warned that fuel powering emergency generators at hospitals in Gaza could run out within hours.

“Without electricity, hospitals risk turning into morgues,” ICRC regional director Fabrizio Carboni told Reuters. “The human misery caused by this escalation is abhorrent, and I implore the sides to reduce the suffering of civilians.”

Israel has said it will keep up the siege until Hamas releases all the hostages it captured last Saturday. Hamas has said it will execute a hostage every time Israel bombs civilian buildings in Gaza.

“No electrical switch will be lifted, no water hydrant will be opened and no fuel truck will enter until the Israeli hostages are returned home. Humanitarian for humanitarian. And nobody should preach us morals,” said Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz in a post on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

On the ground, though, the situation is “devastating,” Fr. Romanelli said.

“The post-war deterioration in the health sector and other systems will have a significant impact on our normal lives, here in the strip. Not to mention the psychological effect, fear, and disorders this war will leave on the people of Gaza. Many will suffer! So, we ask everyone, and every official, to do their utmost efforts to stop this war immediately. We also ask the faithful, everywhere, to unite with us in prayer, and to join the kind appeal made by Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa to dedicate the next Tuesday to fasting, abstinence, and intercession to cry out to God to end this war and bring about peace.”

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