Vatican official brings Christmas cheer to Gaza Catholics

In this Dec. 24, 2018 file photo, Christians celebrate the arrival of Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, center, after he crossed an Israeli military checkpoint from Jerusalem ahead of midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser, File)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Gaza Strip's tiny Catholic community celebrated Christmas early on Sunday at a mass led by the Vatican's top clergyman in the Holy Land.

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa said he wanted to bring some holiday cheer to Gaza's Christians because it remains unclear whether they will be able to travel to Bethlehem in the West Bank for the holiday. Israel has not said whether it will allow Gaza's Christians to exit the Hamas-ruled territory.

Advertisement

"Every year we have the same problem, the permits to go from Gaza to Bethlehem and vice versa. We know that Gaza is closed and we can't accept the situation," Pizzaballa said. "We will do all what is possible to change it, but meanwhile despite the situation -- we want celebrate."

In previous years, Israel has granted travel permits to large numbers of Gaza Christians to visit religious sites and spend time with family in Israel and the West Bank.

[Don’t miss the latest news from the church and the world. Sign up for our daily newsletter.]

But this year, COGAT, the Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs, said it has not yet decided whether to issue the permits en masse. COGAT said, however, it is considering individual permit requests. It also is allowing 100 Christians to travel abroad.

Gaza resident Reema Tarazi said she already has been turned down.

"We are here today to celebrate at the church because we couldn't go to Bethlehem," said she said. "We wished to go there to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but we couldn't."

About 1,000 Christians live in Gaza, a tiny fraction of the territory's 2 million people. Most are Greek Orthodox, with Catholics making up about a quarter of the small community.

While the ruling Islamic militant Hamas movement considers the Christians a protected minority, Christians have been targeted over the years by Islamic zealots. The Christian community has greatly dwindled since Hamas took power in 2007, with large numbers emigrating to flee conflict and difficult living conditions.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a tight blockade over Gaza since the Hamas takeover.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.

Advertisement

The latest from america

The precedent for attacking an opponent on religious grounds is more apt than you might think.
Every conversation my mother and I had about religion drifted into an argument about Pope Francis. Being unable to talk about God with the person who gave me my faith as she lay dying was agonizing.
Mike LewisAugust 13, 2020
“It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs,” Jesus told her. Yet she is not repelled by his parable. She engages it.
Terrance KleinAugust 12, 2020
Catholic composer David Haas is shown in a concert at the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City, Philippines, in this 2016 photo. (CNS photo/Titopao, CC BY-SA 4.0)
Mr. Haas has denied any wrongdoing, calling the accusations “false, reckless and offensive.”