Fr Romanelli: Christians in Gaza living a ‘Way of the Cross’

By Lisa Zengarini, 23 February 2024
Fr Gabriel Romanelli, parish priest of the Holy Family in Gaza with parishioners. Image: Vatican News


The parish priest of the Holy Family Parish in Gaza City, Fr Gabriel Romanelli, says the situation of the some 600 Christians sheltering in the only Catholic church in the Gaza Strip is worsening as Israeli forces intensify raids ahead of their planned ground invasion of Rafah.

As Israel prepares to mount its ground invasion of Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, despite international appeals Israeli army forces have intensified their operations in Gaza City this week and ordered civilians to immediately evacuate the Turkman and Zaitun neighbourhoods.

The news was confirmed to Sir agency by Sister Nabila Saleh who is sheltering in the Holy Family Parish, located in the heart of the Zaitun neighbourhood along with some 600 displaced Christians.

Raids in Turkman and Zaitun 

The nun of the Sisters of the Rosary of Jerusalem said Israel has been raiding the area since Monday, and airstrikes have destroyed the local “Rosary Sisters School” she ran. “We are under the bombs and Israel is inviting civilians to evacuate the area,” she said.

This is not the first time that the Israeli army has ordered the population of Gaza City to leave the area and each time the displaced Christians living in the parish compound have decided to stay as it is impossible to move the elderly, sick and disabled people sheltered there and assisted by the nuns of Mother Teresa without jeopardizing their safety.

“Enough is enough”

This time too, said Sister Nabila, they don’t want to move despite the risks of getting caught in the crossfire. “The thing that hurts the most is that no one is doing anything to stop this war, to tell the two sides that ‘enough is enough’”, the nun lamented. “The international community has no courage while civilians here are dying under bombs, from hunger and hardship. What else do they want from these poor people?” she asked.

Living Way of the Cross in Gaza

For his part, Father Gabriel Romanelli, the parish priest of the Holy Family who hasn’t been able to return to Gaza City since 7 October, 2023, but is in constant contact with his vicar, Father Youssef Asaad, describes the situation of Christians and the civilian population living in the enclave as a “Way of the Cross.”

“The situation is getting worse by the hour as the death toll rises”, he explained.

Since the outbreak of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the death toll among Palestinians killed by the Israeli attacks on Gaza has now exceeded 29,000, with over 69,000 injured, according to the Hamas Ministry of Health.

Living conditions in Holy Family Church 

In this context, even the Holy Family parish’s living conditions are becoming more and more difficult. Father Romanelli explained that the kitchen is now operational only three days a week with the faithful desperately trying to get the food they need.

After more than four months of war, the some 600 displaced Christians sheltering in the compound, including Orthodox Christians from the neighbouring St. Porphyrius Greek Orthodox Church hit by an Israeli airstrike in October, are “tired, sad, and heartbroken.”

“They can’t see a future”, said the Argentinian priest.  Despite this, he added, “They do their utmost for those who have less than them, for the many families living near the parish.”

“Pray for us”

On Friday last week, Fr. Romanelli managed to get in contact with his parish to celebrate the first Lenten Way of the Cross: “In every station, we prayed for the victims of this war, for peace, for those who suffer, for those who have lost everything and everyone”, he explained.

“In this Lenten season – added Sister Nabila – we share our Via Crucis with Jesus, the first to share human suffering. We confide in Him who holds history in His hands, and we ask for the gift of peace. Pray with us, for us and for Gaza,” the nun concluded.

With thanks to Vatican News and Lisa Zengarini, where this article originally appeared.


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