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Current Issue
July, 2019
Volume 45, Number 2
  
15 January 2015
Carl Hétu




Bishops from around the world visited a housing project in Gaza.
(photo: the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales)


Carl Hétu is CNEWA’s national director in Canada. He accompanied Canadian Bishop Lionel Gendron and 15 other bishops from around the world in a recent Holy Land visit. Carl shares his impressions of Gaza after a visit earlier this week.

The bishops participating in the Episcopal Conferences of Coordination in Solidarity with the Church in the Holy Land make it a point to visit Gaza each year to show solidarity with the local Christian community. There are only about 2,000 Christians in Gaza, out of a total population of 1.8 million. This year, after 51 days of war between Hamas and Israel, Christians felt the effects of war the most. We were eager to meet with them — but we almost didn’t make it.

Even though all papers were submitted to the Israeli government over a month ago, we had to wait more than seven hours at the checkpoint until 3:25 pm when we were finally allowed entry. The checkpoint at Erez Crossing closes at 3:30 pm.

The bishops used their time constructively. While waiting, they prayed together for peace. At midday, they decided to start moving to make a point that they wouldn’t leave until they would be allowed in. So we moved to the first military checkpoint and crossed to the customs desk. The military asked us to return to the bus and wait there, which we did.

Morning Prayer at Erez Crossing as bishops wait for permission to enter Gaza.
(photo: the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales)


After a long day, we eventually went through the crossing, walking the fenced road.

For me, this was my first time entering Gaza. It reminded me of my first experience facing third-world poverty in the shanty towns of Lima, Peru. But there was one exception: the level of destruction of hospitals, schools, homes and infrastructure (including the water and electrical systems) was overwhelming.

More than 110,000 people lost their homes. Even now, months later, most people have electricity only a few hours a day.

We visited Holy Family Church and the parish school, which is a part of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. In our discussions there, we didn’t go into deep political analysis of why the war happened, or look at placing blame. Instead, we focused our time on the suffering of innocent victims, especially children and the elderly. The situation now is much worse for families who were already poor and living in harsh conditions.

The school has become a sanctuary from daily life. In school, children can play, learn and hope for a better future — but after school, children and teachers go back to reality. And these days, it is cold and there isn’t any heat. Tragically, three babies died of hypothermia this past weekend. And at night, as I experienced for myself, it is totally dark.

The teachers told us that this past war was the most painful one they have ever experienced. Non-stop explosions over 51 days have shaken them deeply. The material loss is one thing, but there is also the lingering psychological suffering — post-traumatic stress disorders. One teacher, overwhelmed, couldn’t continue the conversation.

One 17-year-old shared with us: “Thank you for your humanitarian help. At least we have food, but my family needs our dignity back. My dream of a better life cannot grow with the wall keeping me prisoner in Gaza.”

And here, with 75 percent unemployment, his future looks grim indeed.

Please remember these good people in your prayers. If you want to give to Gaza, please visit our donation page here.