Palestinian Christians celebrate Easter in Gaza's only Catholic church

The only Catholic church in the Gaza Strip held sombre Easter celebrations on Sunday for hundreds of displaced Palestinian Christians who have taken refuge in its compound since the war began nearly six months ago.

The Church of the Holy Family is located in Gaza City in the northern part of the Strip, an area that has suffered some of the heaviest Israeli bombardment since October and where the global watchdog on food security says a large-scale famine is imminent.

The families who have taken refuge in the church have been “scrabbling to survive” for months with limited food and “almost non-existent” medical supplies – the same as all Palestinians in northern Gaza, including Muslims celebrating the holy month of Ramadan, he said. said Father Davide Meli, chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. “It's an important holiday for all of us,” he said.

The priest of the Holy Family parish, Father Gabriel Romanelli, was in Bethlehem when the war began on October 7, and Israeli authorities have repeatedly denied him permission to return to Gaza, according to Father Meli.

More than 500 people have taken refuge in the Holy Family Church and about 300 others are in the nearby Greek Orthodox Church of St. Porfirio, Father Meli said. Together, he added, they make up the vast majority of Gaza's small, close-knit Christian population.

Both churches were attacked during the war. An Israeli airstrike killed 18 people at St. Porphyry Church in October, according to the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which condemned the attack as a war crime. The Israeli army later said it was targeting a nearby building.

According to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, in December, at the Church of the Holy Family, Israeli snipers killed a mother and daughter inside the church compound and wounded seven others who rushed to help them. Church officials said Israeli rockets also hit a convent inside the compound that day, destroying the building's only generator and leaving some of the dozens of disabled people who live there without working ventilators they needed to survive .

The Israeli army denied having any knowledge of the incident, which Pope Francis condemned as an attack on a church “where there are no terrorists, but families, children, sick and disabled people, sisters.” In his Easter speech on Sunday, he called for an immediate ceasefire.

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