Gaza's only Catholic church damaged by airstrike: 'A miracle prevented a big catastrophe'

Worshippers chant hymns during Christmas Eve service at the Roman Catholic Church of the Holy Family in Gaza City on December 24, 2022.
Worshippers chant hymns during Christmas Eve service at the Roman Catholic Church of the Holy Family in Gaza City on December 24, 2022. | Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images

The only Roman Catholic Church in Gaza was damaged by an alleged Israeli airstrike over the weekend as Palestinian Christians caught up in the Israel-Hamas conflict reportedly face an increasingly "desperate" situation.

Shrapnel from Israeli army strikes targeting nearby buildings damaged Holy Family Church and its parish buildings in Gaza City, wrecking its solar panels and destroying its water tanks, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem confirmed to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. Cars and other parts of the parish complex were also reportedly damaged. 

"Only a miracle prevented a big catastrophe from happening to us," a local partner with the charity was quoted as saying in a press release.

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The war in Gaza was sparked by Hamas' Oct. 7 surprise attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of over 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and the abduction of over 240. In response, Israel launched retaliatory airstrikes and a ground offensive seeking to free hostages and eradicate Hamas, a terror organization that has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry says that over 18,000 people have been killed and 50,000 injured since the war began.

Hundreds of people have taken shelter in the Holy Family Church. ACN, which has been providing meals, food coupons, medical supplies, as well as rent and utility bill payments for displaced Christians, also noted that the parish has run out of fuel, electricity and reliable means of communication.

Although Israel urged residents to flee the conflict zone to southern Gaza, Father Gabriel Romanelli, the pastor of Holy Family Parish, told Catholic News Agency that many in his community chose to stay in northern Gaza when the fighting began because "bombings were taking place both north and south."

"They chose to remain where they were, trusting in Jesus, so they truly felt the presence of God," Romanelli was quoted as saying. 

He added that while there is “great shock and sadness” among Christians in Gaza, “they have great trust in God’s divine protection.” 

Local sources told ACN that 22 Christians have died since the war began, 17 of whom died when an Israeli airstrike intended to strike a Hamas command center damaged the compound of the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Porphyrios, the oldest church in Gaza. The Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem accused Israel of a "war crime."

Holy Family Church joins the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Porphyrios as one of two churches sheltering many displaced Christians in Gaza City. ACN reported last month that approximately 750 were seeking refuge at Holy Family Church, including more than 100 children. 

Last month, an airstrike reportedly destroyed the Rosary Sisters School, which was associated with Holy Family Church and served 1,250 Christian and Muslim students, according to ACN. Additionally, at least 53 Christian families’ homes have been destroyed, according to an ACN project partner. 

Sister Nabila Saleh of the Rosary Sisters, who serves as principal of the school, noted that the school had been evacuated and nobody was killed.

On Oct. 15, Father Youssef Asaad joined Saleh and another sister to film themselves huddled in a stairwell while speaking to Pope Francis, who called them to pray and express his support for the Catholics caught in the midst of the conflict, according to Vatican News.

Bestselling Evangelical American-Israeli author Joel C. Rosenberg has been in touch with Palestinian Christians in Gaza and has urged Israeli leaders and the international community to act on their behalf as their situation grows increasingly dire.

"It pains me beyond measure to report to you that the situation facing Palestinian Christians in Gaza has gone from bad to worse to desperate," Rosenberg wrote in a Dec. 7 report for All Arab News.

"Since the beginning of the war, nearly 1,000 Christians have been sheltering in two historic church buildings in Gaza City and in a group of private homes nearby."

Rosenberg claims the food and fresh water supply of those sheltering in the churches is dwindling quickly and that Christian NGOs are continually hitting bureaucratic roadblocks in their attempts to offer humanitarian support. Adults are foregoing what little food remains to give to the children, many of whom cry from hunger, according to sources who spoke to Rosenberg.

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