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Holy Land Priests on Both Sides Try to Help Parishioners Confront War

24 Jul 2014 – By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM (CNS) — Two priests on either side of the Gaza border are trying to help their small communities confront the realities of war.

Both priests spoke of their material powerlessness against the weapons of war, but of the importance of their spiritual presence for their community.

In Gaza, Institute of the Incarnate Word Father Jorge Hernandez wrote on an entry on IVEMO, his community’s Facebook page that, following the incursion of Israeli ground troops on 17 July, more parishioners have been contacting him for help to overcome their fears and stress caused by the bombings from air, land and sea.

“[There is] the sense of powerlessness, and the fear of the children,” he wrote, adding that there is little he can do.

“Ours is an apostolate of presence. We can’t leave the parish to visit parishioners and friends. We can’t stop this war … we can do ‘nothing.’ However, it is much. All these people are present in my holy sacrifice of the altar, in eucharistic adoration, in the holy rosary… it does a lot.”

Some 26 miles away, Father Gioele Salvaterra of the small community of Hebrew-speaking Catholics in the Israeli city of Be’er Sheva, where hundreds of Hamas missiles have been intercepted by the Israeli Iron Dome defense system, said members of his parish are afraid to leave their homes. He said those who must leave are always aware of the location of bomb shelters and safe places in case of a warning siren.

“There are no answers I can give them except to be here and to listen to them, to help them with their prayer and pray together with them on the phone,” said Father Salvaterra, whose church is located on Peace Street.

He told Catholic News Service his parish includes a number of African asylum seekers who escaped wars in their countries and are reliving those experiences. Many of the places where the asylum seekers live do not have bomb shelters, he added.

The Palestinian Authority said on 24 July that more than 730 people had been killed since 8 July and 4,620 had been injured. Israel noted that Hamas gunmen were included among those numbers.

In Israel, three people have been killed by Hamas missiles since the start of this round of fighting, including a disabled veteran and a foreign worker from Thailand, both of whom were unable to make it to bomb shelters in time.

Phone communication with Gaza is sporadic, and attempts to reach Father Hernandez by phone over several days were unsuccessful. However, he posted on Facebook that water and gas were scarce and electrical power outages, already a common occurrence in Gaza, had become unbearable, especially for hospitals.

Father Hernandez wrote that the smell of war and decomposing bodies hung in the air, and he said he was concerned about the danger of an epidemic because of many unburied corpses.

He said he had witnessed “with deep grief” many families who had lost everything seeking refuge; some had come to the parish.

The mere fact of being among the people, even without being able to do anything “materially” was a source of comfort and relief for them, knowing that someone was accompanying them in their suffering, he wrote.

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Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Israel War Israeli-Palestinian conflict