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Pastor of only Catholic church in Gaza: ‘Never have we seen things like this time’

By Julieta Villar/Catholic News Agency

Father Gabriel Romanelli, an Argentine priest of the Institute of the Incarnate Word (IVE) who serves as pastor of Holy Family Parish in Gaza, shared with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, a statement about the situation following the Hamas attack on Israel, which, he said, “continues to be very bad.”

The surprise attack by the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip began in the early hours of Oct. 7 by land, sea, and air. Countless missiles hit Israeli cities, where civilians were also kidnapped.

The first offensive left at least 40 dead and 700 injured, according to the first official reports.

Israel is “at war,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the country responded with air strikes on the Gaza Strip.

Two days after the conflict began, Romanelli told ACI Prensa from Bethlehem, where he is stranded until he will be able to get through to return to the parish: “We have never seen things like this time.”

“All of our men and women religious in this part of the Holy Land of Palestine and Israel are okay,” he said, although he acknowledged that the mission in Gaza “is the one that is going through very difficult times.”

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“In the parish we have taken in more than 80 Christians and other Muslim neighbors of our school have requested accommodation there,” the priest said. “There are hundreds of dead and thousands of injured among the population,” he added.

Recalling a saying of Pius XII, which St. John Paul II also repeated, the priest asked for prayers for peace, because “nothing is lost with peace, everything can be lost with war.”

Finally, he expressed his gratitude for the closeness, concern, and prayers, along with the “hundreds of messages” he receives every day. “From here I continue to pray and work hard for our Catholic mission in Gaza, for the good of all,” he concluded.

In a statement to the Argentine newspaper La Nación, the priest, who has lived in the Middle East for 28 years, said that he was in Bethlehem when the attack was launched after participating in Rome in the consistory in which Pope Francis created the patriarch of Jerusalem a cardinal, and he is unable — for the moment — to return to his parish.

Speaking to La Nación, Romanelli said: “We anticipated that something could happen, since in May we had a five-day war. [War] was already in the air, it was certainly a very violent year and even though the May hostilities had ceased, the entire area did not look good.”

However, he noted, “as much as we suspected that something was going to happen, more by way of experience, more because of what’s in the air, in the environment, I never imagined something like this.”

The priest said he has a responsibility “for many people, sick people, families, we have more than 10 Caritas clinics there that have already been prepared for an emergency for several months” but “paradoxically, today they haven’t been active because there is so much confusion that it’s not known where the needs are. But all the groups are ready there to receive [patients] tomorrow in case there are more injuries, as is unfortunately expected.”

“I want to hope and I ask God to stop everything,” the priest told the newspaper. “There is nothing impossible for God. But, watching the news, there are signs that suggest that it’s not going to be over quickly… I hope it doesn’t go on any longer, that it’s over quickly, but I have a feeling that it is going to be something longer and more intense.”

Romanelli said he hopes there will be a truce and that a humanitarian corridor can be established to help the victims of the conflict.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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