Military operations in the Gaza Strip have moved to the south, away from Gaza City, where the Christian community is centered. But northern Gaza remains “an area where there is nothing: There are no houses, there is no water, there is no electricity,” said the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.
“There is nothing,” the patriarch, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, emphasized. “It is a situation of extreme poverty, and there are no institutions present.”
The patriarch spoke with reporters in Rome on Monday, following a meeting with Pope Francis.
Cardinal Pizzaballa is in regular contact with the Catholic parish of the Holy Family in Gaza City, which, he said, has endured as much suffering as the general population during Israel’s military assault on the Strip. Israel has been fighting to root out Hamas, which controls the Palestinian territory and which launched a deadly attack on Israel last October 7.
The search for an end to the war is not an easy one, the patriarch said.
“We have to think in stages. There will be no immediate solution. What is important now is to find channels of communication between the two sides. Between Israel and Hamas,” said Pizzaballa, according to Vatican News. The Catholic Church will continue to work toward this goal, he added.
“Not a people apart”
The Italian-born Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem told journalists that during his meeting with Pope Francis, the two discussed “the humanitarian situation of the Christian community in Gaza and in the Holy Land more generally,” as well as the state of dialogue in the region and the prospects for peace.
Pizzaballa said that Gaza’s Christians are “living through the same situation as everyone else.”
“They are not a people apart,” he said. Although the fact of being a “small minority, a very small number” weighs on them, their situation is “a microcosm of the difficulties that the whole population is experiencing.”
“It is not easy, even for the Christians, to be in a situation of great division where everyone is expected to take sides,” the cardinal said.
Together with members of the Greek Orthodox parish of St. Porphyrius, there are an estimated 1,000 Christians living in the Gaza Strip. The Church of the Holy Family, whose pastor has been prevented from returning to Gaza after a trip to Rome last October, has been sheltering people whose homes have been damaged or destroyed by Israeli shelling. Two women were shot to death when they stepped outside the church compound last month, apparently by Israeli snipers.
Hope for greater dialogue
Having traveled to Rome through Jordan, where he took part in the annual commemoration of the Baptism of Christ (photo above), Cardinal Pizzaballa said that that country is the only one in the region “that is stable from a political as well as a humanitarian point of view.”
He said he has spoken with King Abdallah of Jordan, the Jordanian government, and various institutions “to see if we can keep the channels of communication alive with Gaza and also with the little authority that is left there.”
He added that “there is collaboration, a minimum of collaboration” between the Church and other humanitarian organizations and with Egypt.
Separately, Pope Francis told a visiting group that the situation in the Holy Land is “very serious from all points of view.”
While receiving members of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum institute, which celebrated its 100th anniversary on January 15, Francis urged action “to put an end to this tragedy:”
I listened to Father Faltas, the things he told me; and every day I communicate with the parish of Gaza, where many people suffer as a result of this situation. They are just two examples, but all this is much greater. The situation is very grave.
We must pray and act tirelessly so that this tragedy may end. May this spur you all the more to explore the reasons and the quality of your presence in those martyred places, of your presence there, in the martyrdom of that people, in which the roots of our faith are rooted.