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2 Slain at Gaza church: Mom of big family, active in parish

Nuns in front of Holy Family Church, Gaza City

Anas-Mohammed | Shutterstock

John Burger - published on 12/18/23

Fr. Romanelli says his parishioners are persevering in spite of increasing violence.

The pastor of the only Catholic parish in the Gaza Strip is remembering two women who were killed at the church on Saturday as talented and active parishioners.

Samar Kamal Anton was the cook at the Gaza City convent of the Missionaries of Charity, and she and her mother, Nahida Khalil Anton, were very active in parish activities, according to Fr. Gabriel Romanelli, pastor of Holy Family parish in Gaza City [pictured above in 2021].

The two were shot Saturday around noon as they walked from the church to the convent. The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem in a statement used the word “murdered,” in reference to their deaths. 

Fr. Romanelli told Aleteia’s French edition that the shooting, as well as attacks that had taken place around the parish just before were “incomprehensible because our parish has been reported since the start of the war as a place of worship.”

The Argentine missionary, who has worked in the Holy Land for decades, said that no belligerents were in the area of the church. Yet, seven other people were injured by gunfire while trying to protect those inside the parish. He said that the Israel Defense Forces had issued no warning.

Earlier Saturday morning, an Israeli tank launched rockets at the Missionaries of Charity convent, destroying a generator and damaging the house, where the Missionaries cared for 54 disabled persons. Those people had to be moved, and some were deprived of respirators. Solar panels and water tanks also were destroyed.

The IDF issued a statement about military actions in the area but did not mention the two women’s deaths. 

“An initial review suggests that IDF troops, who were operating against Hamas terrorists in the area, operated against a threat that they identified in the area of the church,” the military organization told Fox News. “The IDF is conducting a thorough review of the incident.”

Aleteia has reached out to the IDF seeking further clarification. 

Persevereing

Since the beginning of Israel’s war against Hamas, prompted by the October 7 attack on Israel, the Christian community in Gaza has tried to remain in place, in spite of massive bombardment of Gaza City and a weeks-long siege in which no food, fuel, or water was allowed into the Palestinian territory. Fr. Romanelli was outside the territory when hostilities began and has been stuck in Jerusalem since then. 

But he recalled his two deceased parishioners in an interview with Vatican News.

“Nahida was the mother of a large family, with many children, almost all married,” he said. She was part of the Women’s Confraternity, the St. Anne group, as well as in other parish groups, often bringing her children and grandchildren.

“Samar took on many responsibilities, helped us organize many activities, also with young people and with the St. Anne group,” he said. “Everyone, the whole Anton family, is very connected to the church, to the parish. It is a great sorrow.”

Last Friday, he said that missile strikes “are getting closer and closer.”

On Sunday, Pope Francis, who has been in regular contact with the parish priests and others at Holy Family, condemned the attacks, saying there are no terrorists inside the parish complex, but only “families, children, people who are sick and have disabilities, and nuns.”

Fr. Romanelli characterized his parishioners as “very religious, fervent, attached to the Virgin Mary and to the celebration of the sacraments.”

“And today, in this context of war, Advent takes on a very spiritual meaning. [Christ] invites us to raise our souls, to look towards Heaven where salvation and peace come from which were proclaimed on the evening of the Lord’s birth,” the pastor told Aleteia. “We pray that this peace will be given to the world, especially in Gaza, that a ceasefire will finally be decreed, that the war will stop. Of course, it is not easy, because our faithful are exhausted, distressed. But they hold on.”

As an example, he said that the parishioners who were injured on Saturday returned the next day to Mass. “This does not mean they are holy or perfect,” he said. “This means that they are men and women of faith, who desire holiness and know that, to obtain it, we must pray, forgive, be forgiven, receive the sacraments, live what is given to us to live. And the Lord has allowed them to be, today, on the Calvary of war.”

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