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In Gaza, celebrate Palm Sunday despite everything and pray “for peace”

Photo: Agence France-Presse The Gaza Strip has around a thousand Christians, most of them Orthodox. Pictured is the Holy Family, the only Catholic church in Gaza City.

France Media Agency in the Gaza Strip

March 24, 2024

  • Middle East

The faces are closed, and the steps are heavy for the procession. At the Holy Family, the only Catholic church in Gaza City, the faithful came this Palm Sunday to pray “for peace”.

Many children, rather elderly people, sisters… There were several dozen, perhaps a hundred, gathered to mark the start of Holy Week, in Gaza ravaged by the war between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.

Under a spring sun, the bells rang. In the courtyard of the parish complex decorated with palm leaves, the door of the church decorated with branches, the faithful slowly marched in procession and sang, olive branch in hand, in this aptly named Olivet district.

“Our celebration of Palm Sunday is a moment of hope, for good and peace, for us and for the whole world,” said the young officiant in the light-walled church. The opportunity “to purify our hearts and fill them with love, generosity and peace.”

In the front row, serious altar boys and young servants in red albs and white surplices. Behind, flocks with drawn features, dark circles and dark faces.

“This time, we don’t have the heart to celebrate,” Sister Nabila Saleh told Agence France-Presse (AFP). “It’s true that we decorated, but we don’t feel the feelings of other years. »

Not spared

“We are all in this together, we all suffer from the same hardships and horrors of war. And we hope that the coming year will be a year of kindness and peace for our dear land, Palestine,” adds the nun.

The light stone church, whose site notably houses a school, is still standing, but it was not spared by the war, triggered on October 7 by a Hamas attack on the ground Israeli government which left 1,160 dead, mainly civilians, according to an AFP report based on official data.

Several Christian families from Gaza have found refuge there since the start of the Israeli offensive carried out in retaliation, which left more than 32,200 dead in the Gaza Strip, mainly civilians, according to the Hamas Ministry of Health.

In December, two women, a mother and her daughter, were killed there, hit by gunfire as they walked towards the convent.

We hope that the coming year will be a year of kindness and peace for our dear land, Palestine

— Nabila Saleh

Pope Francis deplored the next day that “defenseless civilians are the target […] of fire from snipers”: “this is “is produced even within the parish of the Holy Family, where there are no terrorists, but families, children, sick people or people with disabilities.”

According to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which had blamed “an Israeli sniper”, “a shell fired from a tank” had fallen on the convent of the Sisters of Charity of Mother Teresa, located in the same complex and sheltering sick people.

The Israeli army, for its part, denied any involvement.

The Pope has continued to call for a ceasefire and the release of the hostages kidnapped on the day of the Hamas attack and still held in Gaza, also receiving discussions on this subject representatives and members of all religions.

On October 9, he telephoned the priest of the Holy Family in Gaza, Gabriel Romanelli, to assure “his solidarity and prayers” to the small Catholic community in the territory.

The Gaza Strip, where the majority of its 2.4 million inhabitants are Muslim, has around a thousand Christians, most of them Orthodox.

In Jerusalem too, the faithful celebrated Palm Sunday as best they could, supposed to mark, according to evangelical tradition, the triumphant arrival of Jesus in the city.

Hanna Tams, a 30-year-old Palestinian choreographer, regretted that “many of [his] friends from the West Bank could not come” with him to the procession from the Mount of Olives, due to lack of Israeli authorization: ” It hurts my heart. It’s like saying “sorry, you are children of this earth and you can’t come and celebrate”. In any case, I wish the people in Gaza the best, I wish they were here with us.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116