Christmas Joy in Gaza   2013/01/10
By: JJ

GAZA – A day after the Solemnity of the Epiphany in Bethlehem, our thoughts turn toward Gaza, a place where the Holy Family rested while fleeing to Egypt.  Bishop William Shomali, Auxiliary Bishop of Jerusalem visited Gaza on December 24 to celebrate Christmas, one month after the truce was signed on November 21, that ended the eight days of war.
Hundreds of Christians came on December 24th to celebrate Christmas in the Holy Family parish in Gaza, the Catholic faithful of the parish and many Orthodox.  Mass was celebrated by Bishop Shomali who was accompanied by Father Faysal Hijazin, Director of Catholic schools in Palestine, with parish priest Father Jorge Hernandez and his vicar Father Gabriele as concelebrants. The parish presented to the nearly 600 Christians present, a traditional show depicting the Annunciation and the Nativity that was followed by a festive meal.
Waiting in Hope for Salvation.
This year, Christmas was celebrated in just over a month after the truce was signed on November 21, which ended “Operation Pillar of Defense.” For many parishioners, the ceasefire is a Marian miracle. The Nativity and the proclamation of the Good News seem to have been experienced with a special depth this year.
This is the impression felt by Bishop Shomali when he returned to Gaza: “By celebrating Christmas in the Holy Family parish, I felt that the Christians of Gaza  really want salvation with a strong hope and deep joy.  ”The atmosphere was very joyful,” as manifested  by the Sisters of the Incarnate Word, who were involved in the whole preparation and organization of the day.
However, we know that in the hearts and minds of the people of Gaza, they all continue to suffer from the traumatic experience of the eight days of bombing. Father Hijazin stated that the children are most affected by the consequences of war.   Latin Patriarchate schools have 1,500 students in Gaza, and have welcomed both Christians and Muslims.
530 permits granted by Israel
Every year,  the State of Israel issues travel permits to Christians living in the Palestinian territories, who are able to visit the holy places during religious festivals. For Christmas 2012, 530 permits were issued to Gaza residents.  There are about  1,550 Christians in Gaza and many preferred to remain and celebrate Christmas Mass in the parish of the Holy Family, then visit the holy places.    It is beautiful testimony of commitment to the parish who wishes to be a family for its faithful and a tribute to the parish priest Fr Jorge Hernandez, his vicar and the three religious communities serving the community: the Sisters of the Rosary, the Missionaries of Charity and the Sisters of the Incarnate Word.
Amelie La Hougue
(Photos by Nicola M. Scopelliti)


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