Pope calls Gaza parish staff as bombing continues

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Rosary Sister Nabila Saleh, right, Father Youssef Asaad and another sister make a low-resolution video of themselves speaking on a cellphone with Pope Francis from a stairwell in Gaza in this screen grab from Oct. 15, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media via YouTube)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Huddled in a stairwell at the Catholic parish and school in Gaza, Rosary Sister Nabila Saleh, another sister and Father Youssef Asaad filmed themselves speaking to Pope Francis on the phone and begging for his continued prayers.

Pope Francis phoned Holy Family parish — the only Catholic parish in Gaza — the evening of Oct. 15, Vatican News reported. Sister Saleh said Father Asaad passed her the phone because he doesn’t speak Italian as well as she does.

After Hamas launched attacks on Israel Oct. 7 and Israel responded by bombing targets in Gaza, “the Holy Father wanted to know how many people we are hosting in the parish facilities,” Sister Saleh told Vatican News. There are about 500 people, including “the sick, families, children, the disabled, people who have lost their homes and every belonging.”

“It was a great blessing to be able to speak with him,” Sister Saleh said. “He gave us courage and the support of prayer.”

They asked the pope to keep making appeals for peace, she said, and they told him they would offer their sufferings as a prayer for peace, for the needs of the Church and for the assembly of the Synod of Bishops.

Showing great faith

“Our parishioners were very happy. They know that the pope is working for peace and for the good of the Christian community in Gaza,” she said.

“We want peace because war helps no one,” she told Vatican News.

“We ask for justice, justice and peace,” Sister Saleh said. “The Palestinian people also have a right to live. We ask that they not punish the whole population because of a group of fanatics.”

The people sheltering at the parish and school and other Catholics staying nearby are helping one another as best they can, she said.

Sister Nabila Saleh, principal at the Rosary Sisters School in Gaza, stands with others at the road outside the school damaged from Israeli bombing May 12, 2021. (CNS photo/courtesy Holy Family Catholic Parish, Gaza)

Local Catholics, she said, are showing great faith in God. “We are learning from them,” she added.

Mass is celebrated at Holy Family twice a day, she said, and the people are constantly praying the Rosary.

At the evening Mass on Oct. 15, she said, they celebrated the baptism of a baby. “The mom was afraid something horrible could happen and requested the baptism of her son. It was a moment of spiritual resurrection and rebirth for all of us.”

Cindy Wooden

Cindy Wooden is a journalist with Catholic News Service.