In normal times, the chief shepherd of the Latin Catholics in the Holy Land would celebrate a Mass in the Gaza Strip on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, as his flock there would not be able to travel to Bethlehem for Midnight Mass at Christmas.
Now, not even the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem is able to visit that flock in Gaza.
Since the Israel Defense Forces have launched a war against Hamas, the Palestinian military organization that killed some 1,200 people in Israel on October 7, the tiny Christian community in Gaza has been struggling to survive amid shelling and the cutting off of food, water, and fuel. Their own pastor, an Argentine-born missionary who has worked in the Holy Land for decades, is stuck in Jerusalem, following a trip to Rome. Pope Francis regularly calls him and the parish itself, which is mourning the loss of two parishioners shot by the Israeli military, apparently mistaken for Hamas militants.
In an interview with AsiaNews, the patriarch said that there is still a “feeling of pain and bewilderment” about the shooting, especially since the IDF was supposed to know that the compound was a religious sanctuary, with no militants present.
The Latin Patriarchate produced a short video this week to remind people of how much has changed since last Christmas.
“The Christian community in Gaza, which is significantly small yet has a big calling, lives together as one big family, displaying strong brotherly relations with each other and the community around them, facing all their challenges and pains in a spirit of faith, hope, and steadfastness,” the Latin Patriarchate said on its website. Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Patriarch, “has shared with us, upon following up with the state of our parishioners in Gaza, that this war has caused their faith to be fortified rather than shaken; they remained in prayer and placed their trust in God’s protection and refused to escape from their homeland.”
A pastor and his young sheep
The patriarchate said that when Cardinal Pizzaballa visits, he spends time visiting homes to get to know the families, listen to their needs, pray together, and bless their houses. He administers first Communion, Confirmation, and Baptism to a large number of children and visits church schools.
“There is always a special time devoted to the youth and the scouts, but especially during his visit in 2021, Cardinal Pizzaballa inaugurated a soccer and basketball field, met with the scouts of the parish, and organized a day of activities in the parish yard for the youth,” the patriarchate said.
In 2022, the Latin Patriarchate helped expand a Missionary Sisters of Charity center in Gaza that used to care for severely disabled children, teenagers, and the elderly. It was left uninhabitable in the recent attacks.
God of the impossible
“Pain and suffering are inevitable in this life, but Hope remains,” the patriarchate concludes, “for our God is the God of hope (Romans 15:13). He is the God of the impossible (Mt 19:26). So let us unite in prayer and faith, and welcome the Nativity of Christ in a spirit of humility, remembering that he is Emmanual, God with us, and calls us to be the light of the world as “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).