JERUSALEM (OSV News) — The world has become very small and dangerous for the 600 Palestinian Gaza Christians sheltering at the Holy Family Parish church compound in Gaza City almost since the start of the Israeli-Hamas war Oct. 7.
OSV News approached the young people of the parish through lay leader George Anton and parish priest, Argentine Father Gabriel Romanelli, to write and tell about their life now in the midst of war.
The Holy Family church compound, along with the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Porphyrius, are located in Gaza City in northern Gaza Strip where at the beginning of the war the Israeli military asked Palestinian Gaza civilians to flee to the south to avoid being caught in the crossfire.
Eighteen people were killed early in the war in the St. Porphyrius compound when Israel bombed a building next to the church. Fierce fighting has taken place in the area near the church in the past few days, and two women — both parishioners — were killed and seven others wounded by sniper fire on Dec. 16.
According to parish priest Father Romanelli, who found himself stuck in Jerusalem when the war broke out, there are 1,017 Christians now living in Gaza, of whom 135 are Catholic.
Father Youssef Asaad, an assistant priest, has been ministering to Holy Family Parish in Father Romanelli’s absence. In addition to two Rosary Sisters, including the principal of the Rosary Sisters School, Sister Nabila Saleh, who also have stayed with the community, two religious missionaries of the Family of the Incarnate Word and twin sisters María del Pilar and María del Perpetuo Socorro Llerena Vargas from Peru have remained in Gaza.
Some members of the Christian community with foreign passports were able to leave through Egypt when the Rafah crossing was opened briefly to foreign residents of the Gaza Strip.
Asked whether OSV News could hear from young people of the Holy Family Parish, Anton and Father Romanelli warned that it was doubtful that anyone would be up for writing about the traumatic time they were living through right now.
However, one young man, Suhail Abu Dawod, responded and sent a letter that he titled “Our Tragedy Daily Life During the War.” Abu Dawod describes the struggle of his daily life, his fear and panic as he guards the compound at night with other young men of the community, and also his unwavering faith in God, because, he says at the end of his letter, “Faith is stronger than war.”
The letter was written before the shooting and tank attack on the Holy Family Parish church compound Dec. 16.
Below is his full letter written in his own words in English, edited only for clarity and grammar:
My name is Suhail Abu Dawod, I’m 18 years old and I live in Gaza City.
Today, I’m going to talk about how my day passes during the war in the parish (The Holy Family Church) as a young boy (taking shelter) in the church.
First of all, from the beginning of the war (on) the 7th of October, I started living a different style of living, a life full of sadness, disappointment, fear and panic.
The conditions became dangerous so I left my home and I went to the church, so everything I (used to do easily) in my daily routine, became suffering with my family.
We started living differently in the parish by eating simple things like cheese or jam with tea or coffee.
Our daily routine became different and difficult, especially at night, (when) we hear big sounds of non-stop crossfire around us and huge sounds of bombs and booming in the neighborhood.
Particularly, I’m facing a huge fear and panic because I am guarding the church at night with the rest of the youth from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. so all of these moments are scary and terrifying.
The sufferings are not leaving us, we are facing a huge lack of food, water, (flour) to bake and petrol for lights and the daily activities.
The elderly people are suffering because of lack of health care and medication because all of the hospitals in the city are out of service.
Everything we own (has) been destroyed and devastated like our homes and our cars. So (we have) nothing except our church. The church is our real home, the home of peace, forgiveness and love.
Thankfully, we had five days of cease fire, but there’s nothing we have to check it.
In all these cases and problems, we are still having faith and trust in our only savior Jesus Christ and we are sure that He will rescue us from this hard and tough situation very soon and we won’t lose hope in our God because we are praying the Holy Rosary every day without stopping before every Holy Mass we celebrate.
We are determined and we are holding the patience of the Holy Spirit.
Above all the suffering we are experiencing, God will give us his holy hands to help us.
Faith is stronger than war.
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Judith Sudilovsky writes for OSV News from Jerusalem.