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Cardinal Pizzaballa, parish priest able to visit besieged Gaza City

His Beatitude Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa in Gaza

Courtesy of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem

John Burger - published on 05/16/24

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem brings long-absent pastor, promise of humanitarian aid from Order of Malta.

Eight months after Israel’s major military operation in the Gaza Strip began in response to the Hamas terrorist attack, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem has visited the Catholic parish in Gaza City, bringing with him the long-absent pastor of the community and the promise of badly needed humanitarian aid.

His Beatitude Pierbattista Cardinal Pizzaballa, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, entered Gaza and reached the parish of the Holy Family for a May 16 pastoral visit, the Latin Patriarchate announced.

A spokesman for the Latin Patriarchate, Farid Jubran, told Aleteia that the cardinal “has for long wished to visit Gaza. Recently it became more feasible and he decided to conduct the visit.”

As of Thursday, Cardinal Pizzaballa was still in Gaza.

Farid declined commenting on how the visit was arranged to the Strip, which has been under attack from Israeli Defense Forces for months, and whether any government or military officials helped facilitate the visit.

“For various reasons we cannot, at this time, provide any information concerning the arrangements of the visit and the entry to the Gaza Strip,” Jubran said in an email.

Traveling with His Beatitude was Fr. Gabriele Romanelli, parish priest of Gaza, who was in Italy when hostilities began last October and was unable to get back home. The parish since then has been administered by the associate pastor, Fr. Youssef Assad. Pope Francis has called Fr. Assad and other parish leaders regularly since the conflict began.

Fr. Romanelli will now stay in Gaza, Jubran affirmed.

Also visiting Gaza on Thursday was His Excellency, Fra’ Alessandro de Franciscis, Grand Hospitaller of the Sovereign Order of Malta, and a small delegation. They met the suffering population to encourage them and to deliver a message of hope, solidarity, and support. 

“The meaning of my visit is first of all to be with them, to embrace them, to hug them, and to support them as much as we can,” Cardinal Pizzaballa said in a video posted on YouTube. “I had wanted and desired to see them for a very long time.” Normally, the patriarch visits the small Gaza community every year before Christmas.

The patriarch delivered what Jubran described as “a spontaneous homily, heart to heart. Words of encouragement and admiration of their resilience and faith.”

Humanitarian aid

The visit was the first stage of a joint humanitarian mission of the Latin Patriarchate and the Sovereign Order of Malta, in collaboration with Malteser International and other partners, aiming at the delivery of life-saving food and medical help to the population in Gaza.

In his video message, the cardinal explained that his visit is also an opportunity to “see what we can do to improve their conditions and to help them in every way possible.”

The 59-year-old Franciscan prelate called on Christians around the world to pray for the Christians of Gaza.

The aid mission will be carried out by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Sovereign Order of Malta and its worldwide relief agency, Malteser International and other partners. 

The Order of Malta has had a presence in the Holy Land since the 11th century with a mission of care for pilgrims of any faith, ethnicity, or political belief.  The motto “Tuitio Fidei, Obsequium Pauperum” or “Witness of the faith and assistance to the poor” has guided its work for over nine centuries. Today, the Order is present in 120 countries worldwide and remains apolitical, neutral, and impartial.  

The Order of Malta continues to serve the Holy Land and operates a maternity hospital in Bethlehem where over 4,500 babies are born each year. It is the only hospital in the region equipped with an intensive neonatology ward capable of treating premature babies or those born with serious genetic disorders. The hospital has seen over 100,000 babies born since 1990, some born at less than 32 weeks’ gestation. The Holy Family Hospital serves a catchment area of one million people and is an important reference hospital for women and children’s health in the region. The staff consists of Christian and Muslim doctors and nurses.  

His Beatitude presided at a Mass in the parish church with the Catholic community, which has seen its numbers decline in recent months. Two worshipers were shot dead by Israeli soldiers in the parish grounds on December 16.

“In the Holy Family compound there are 500 people, mostly Christians,” Jubran said. “The life is a life of uncertainty and concern. It is life in a war zone. But people are very resilient and have great faith. There are people who need more care, including medical care and the Patriarchate intends to do all the efforts to provide for their needs.”

During his stay, His Beatitude also paid a courtesy visit to the St. Porphyrius Orthodox parish, where he met Bishop Alexios as well as the parish priest and the people living in the compound. The visit lasted over an hour.

Tags:
Christians in the Middle EastHoly LandIsraelPalestineWar
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