January 16, 2024 // National

After 100 Days of War, Christians’ Testimony ‘True Miracle’

By Michael Kelly

(OSV News) – In the shadow of darkness, eight children in Gaza City beamed with joy as they received their first Communion.

As the world marked 100 days since the Hamas militants’ attacks that unleashed hell in the Holy Land, images of the children from Holy Family Parish – the only Catholic parish in the Gaza Strip – dressed in white albs to receive the sacrament were a stark and welcome contrast in a land that has had very little reason to smile since the most recent war began on October 7.

Across the border in Israel, the families of those hostages still held by Hamas and other groups marked the poignant milestone of 100 days without their loved ones with a vigil in Tel Aviv.

On Jan. 7, 2024, the feast of Epiphany, Father Youssef Asaad, an assistant priest at Holy Family Parish in Gaza City, center, is joined by altar servers in standing with eight children of the parish who received their first Communion after completing their preparation program and education, despite the Israel-Hamas war. (OSV News photo/courtesy Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem)

As he has done from the beginning of the current conflict, the pope used an appearance on Italian television on Sunday, January 14, to plead for an end to violence. “It’s true that making peace is risky, but war is riskier,” he said.

The pope’s solidarity and interventions are reassuring for the Christian community, but as war continues to rage with Israel vowing not to stop until Hamas is eradicated, Church leaders in the region feel increasingly helpless.

Speaking to OSV News from Jerusalem, Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, the Custos, or guardian, of the holy places, was downbeat.

“I feel very sad and frustrated, because at this moment, it seems impossible to do something for the civilian population of Gaza – particularly for the children. But it is impossible also to obtain that the Israeli hostages will be freed,” he said.

On Monday, January 15, the 101st day of Israel-Hamas war, a woman in her 70s was killed and 17 others were injured in twin attacks in the central Israeli city of Raanana, according to statements released by the hospitals treating the victims of the attack.

Israeli police said two suspects – who ran over a number of people in several locations – were residents of Hebron, a city in the occupied West Bank. The police said they entered Israel illegally and are now in police custody.

“We are praying every day for peace, for reconciliation, for a diplomatic and political solution of this terrible situation,” Father Patton told OSV News from St. Saviour’s Monastery in Jerusalem’s Old City, just a few minutes’ walk from the site of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection – the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Before the war, there were an estimated 1,200 Christians in Gaza; most observers say the number has dropped now to around 800 with those holding dual nationalities able to flee via Egypt. Most of the Christians are Greek Orthodox, but there is also the Catholic community gathered around Holy Family Parish.

Father Patton described their witness amid the war as “a true miracle.”

“All of them know each other and are waiting for the end of the war. They cannot leave the Gaza Strip, and they need food, water, medicines, fuel – everything,” he said.

While almost 62 miles from Gaza, heightened security measures have made life difficult for the Palestinian residents – many of whom used to cross the border to Israel every day for work.

Father Patton described the situation in the West Bank as “frozen.”

“You cannot go in and out like before on October 7,” he said. This means that for almost all those who were working in Israel, it is now impossible to continue.

“For the Christian community of Bethlehem, the situation is tragic, because our Christians usually worked in the tourism industry and (with) pilgrimages, but now all the hotels are closed, the shops are closed, and the pilgrims are not coming anymore,” he lamented.

“So, the situation in the West Bank is explosive because of restrictions on freedom, poverty, violence, and desperation” Father Patton told OSV News.

When the war ends, as all wars do, Father Patton insists that “the real challenge will not be to rebuild houses, but to rebuild relations.

“The long-term consequences will be many and very difficult to solve, but I think that this is the last opportunity
to solve, politically, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and give a political international recognition to the State of Palestine,” he said.

Michael Kelly writes for OSV News from Dublin.

* * *

The best news. Delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to our mailing list today.