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Gaza priest separated from his flock


Fr Romanelli -  Image ICN/JS

Fr Romanelli - Image ICN/JS

Source: CBCEW

When Father Gabriel Romanelli travelled to the West Bank to get some urgently-needed medicine for a nun living with his community in Gaza, it never crossed his mind he'd be separated from his flock for over six months.

Father Gabriel, parish priest of the Holy Family Church in the north of the strip, had to watch from a distance as the horrors of the 7 October Hamas attack unfolded, before Israel's bombardment of Gaza led to the humanitarian crisis and suffering we now see in this torn land. An Argentinian priest of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, Fr Gabriel has been in Jerusalem ever since, despite repeated requests to the Israeli authorities to rejoin his people in Gaza.

Father Gabriel has just spent a week in the UK, in London and Glasgow, from 22 - 27 April, meeting with Christian leaders and politicians to highlight the plight of the near 500 people still sheltering in the compound of the Holy Family Church.

In a special podcast, with the Catholic Media Office he spoke about his desire to be with his parish community in the north of Gaza in their hour of need, the lack of food, water and medicine, the Pope's daily phone calls and pastoral concern for the people, the need for a lasting peace, what Catholics in England and Wales can do, the light of faith in the darkness, and much more.

Christians are often the peacemakers and bridge-builders in places of war. The Catholics of Gaza are a good example. Life is always hard in Gaza but since 7 October Christians have widened their tent to offer shelter to others suffering in the death and destruction of this war zone.

"Gaza is a very tough piece of land, but it's a holy land," says Fr Gabriel. "Our church, our paradise on earth, has become a shelter, a hospital… we received more than 20 people who were wounded in the Saint Porphyrius attack, the Greek Orthodox Church. The children saw that. The children saw the funerals - took part in the funerals."

Whatever Gaza looks like when the war ends, it's how the children recover that concerns Fr Gabriel:

"We tried. We tried to sing with them. We tried to restart their lives… we don't know the future. As Christians, we are the sons of Calvary, but we are also the sons of the Resurrection, and this is our secret mystery. We can help Palestinian society, and also Israeli society, and all of society with our prophetic witness of peace."

Pope Francis has called the parish in Gaza every day - even during a recent period of sickness - to express his care for and spiritual closeness to the people sheltering at the Holy Family Church.

"Two days after the beginning of the war, he called me on my cell phone and said 'I am the Pope. How are you? How is the situation?… Every day the pope calls to give his blessing, to ask some questions, to ask for Mass to protect the children, and to feel the closeness of the Catholic Church and millions and millions of people.

"Even when the Pope was sick, with a very weak voice, he called us and said, 'Okay, I am with you. I pray for you. I work for peace for Israel and Palestine.' We thank the Holy Father and the Church for this closeness."

Fr Gabriel asks that we keep him and his parishioners in our prayers as we continue our journey through this universal time of resurrection in Eastertide.

If you would like to support Church projects in the Holy Land see:

Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem: www.lpj.org/en/sectors/health

Friends of the Holy Land: www.friendsoftheholyland.org.uk/Appeal/hope

Bethlehem Care and Hospice Trust: https://bethlehemcareandhospicetrust.org/

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