Remembering Gaza’s Christians this Holy Week

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Holy Land Christians
A Christian pilgrim lights a candle Dec. 17, 2016, in the grotto of the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank. (OSV News photo/Debbie Hill)

“It is a very special Easter. We are closer than ever to the crucified Savior,” a Christian in Gaza recently told the Catholic relief agency Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Over the past five months, 800 Christians have sought refuge in St. Porphyrios Greek Orthodox Church and Holy Family Catholic Church in Gaza. Holy Family currently provides shelter to 512 Christians, including 120 children. A single priest and seven religious currently manage the compound. They do their best to provide for the needs of those currently living at the parish. The celebration of Mass and the recitation of the Rosary are a daily part of parish life, as is regular catechesis.

But supplies are short. The Latin Patriarchate (the Catholic diocese, which encompasses Jerusalem and the surrounding area) is able to provide two meals a week per person and a loaf of bread every two days. It’s not enough.

Gaza’s suffering Christian community

Once home to a thriving Christian community, Gaza now has fewer than 1,000 Christians within its borders, compared to around 3,000 when Hamas began to govern the region in 2007. Those who stay do so because Gaza is their home.

Since the onset of the conflict, 30 Christians have lost their lives. This toll includes the tragic deaths of 17 people who fell victim to an assault targeting a Greek Orthodox parish compound in October 2023 and, two women who were fatally shot by snipers while within the confines of Holy Family Parish. Regrettably, an additional 11 individuals have succumbed to chronic illnesses for which they were unable to be adequately treated amid the turmoil.

The wider conflict has been devastating to human life and thriving in the region. Over 31,000 Palestinians (including over 12,000 children) and 1,100 Israelis have lost their lives. The Israeli military estimates that 130 of the hostages taken by Hamas Oct. 7 remain unaccounted for.

Due to the scarcity of clean food and water, the current situation makes these final days of Lent the worst days that the Christians at Holy Family have suffered since the outbreak of the war. As of this writing, the U.S. has delivered 124,000 meals by means of four airdrops in the past week.

The members of Christ’s body still suffer

In the coming week, the Church will relive the solemn mysteries of Jesus’ last days. Those days were marked by great evil. Jesus endured the most inhumane and brutal pain for us. He was mocked and beaten as he carried the instrument of his death to Calvary. He died in shame on a cross. It’s difficult to relive each year; our stomachs turn, meditating on the cruelty he freely suffered for our salvation.

And yet his body, the Church, suffers still. On March 1, the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem called for an immediate ceasefire to facilitate the disbursal of relief supplies throughout the Gaza Strip. They also begged for the release of prisoners and hostages. In a statement, the Christian leaders said, “In issuing the above calls, our ultimate hope is that the end of hostilities, the release of captives, and the care of the downtrodden will open a horizon for serious diplomatic discussion that finally lead to a just and lasting peace here in the land where our Lord Jesus Christ first took up his cross on our behalf. May God grant us all his grace as we seek the fulfillment of this hopeful Easter vision.”

An Easter plea for peace

It is our duty to advocate for these embattled, suffering Christians and for all whose lives have been engulfed by the conflict. “Every day, in my heart, I carry the pain and suffering of the populations in Palestine and Israel due to the ongoing hostilities,” Pope Francis recently said during an appeal following a Sunday Angelus address. We, too, should carry the pain and suffering of Gaza’s Christian community in our hearts.

And we should raise our voices for peace. We should raise our voices, as the Holy Father and the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem have done, to plead for the liberation of hostages and the distribution of greatly needed essential aid to the people suffering in Gaza.

As our hearts and minds turn to the memory of Christ’s passion, we must remember the members of his body who live in the shadows of the sacred places where the mysteries of our redemption first unfolded. Our cry for aid for the Christians of Gaza who suffer is not hopeless. The Easter story ends not in death, but in resurrection.

Our fellow Christians need aid, yes. But they need hope too. They need the comfort of our prayers. We hope and pray for the release of all hostages, including the six Americans taken captive by Hamas terrorists. We hope and pray for the care and assistance of the Catholics at Holy Family Parish and all of Gaza’s Christians. And we hope and pray for the peace of Christ for this war-torn land.

Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board

The Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board consists of Father Patrick Briscoe, OP, Gretchen R. Crowe, Matthew Kirby, Scott P. Richert and York Young.