‘Touches the Heart’: Cardinal Pizzaballa Meets With Journalists to Discuss Visit to Catholic Parish in Gaza

Cardinal Pizzaballa said, ‘The traumatic impact of the war on the population is enormous.’

Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, listens to a question during the May 20 press briefing with a small group of journalists at the Latin Patriarchate headquarters in Jerusalem about his recent visit to visit the Catholic community in Gaza. (Photo: Marinella Bandini)

On Monday, May 20, the day after returning from the Catholic parish in northern Gaza, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa met with a small group of journalists at the patriarchate in Jerusalem to talk about his visit. 

“I was comforted by meeting the community,” said Cardinal Pizzaballa, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem. 

“The situation is very complicated,” he said, but “I found a well-organized, active community capable of living in this situation with the right attitude. I did not hear a word of anger. I heard words of pain, suffering and lament — but not of anger or resentment. Everyone desires for the war to end. They told me, ‘We Christians don’t have violence in our blood; we can’t understand all of this.’ It seemed truly significant to me.”

Above all, Cardinal Pizzaballa said he found a community that still knows how to look to the future, with concern but also with hope. 

“They are concerned about the future of the children, the school, the houses. ... It is important and urgent to give immediate and concrete answers in order to assure them that there is a future for them,” he said.

“From a humanitarian perspective, the situation has improved,” he said, even if “it doesn’t mean it’s good.” Many difficulties persist, and Christians, like the rest of the population, must contend with food shortages, a lack of basic sanitary conditions, psychological traumas, physical injuries, chronic illness, and the destruction of homes and infrastructure.

Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, speaks during a May 20, 2024, press briefing with a small group of journalists at the Latin Patriarchate headquarters about his recent visit to the Catholic community in Gaza. Credit: Marinella Bandini

Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, speaks during a May 20, 2024, press briefing. | Marinella Bandini

According to a press release from the Latin Patriarchate issued today, the cardinal’s visit began on May 15.

Cardinal Pizzaballa declined to provide logistical details or information regarding coordination with the Israeli Army that made the visit happen. However, he described the impact of entering Gaza.

“I’ve been there at least 10 times before the war,” he explained. “The first impression upon entering was one of disorientation, due to the extensive destruction. The streets are no longer the same; we passed through ruins, makeshift roads among piles of garbage. The places I was somewhat familiar with are unrecognizable. It is very difficult to find an intact house. We traveled in silence.”

Even if he had seen the images, “seeing it in person has a totally different impact,” he added. “You don’t just see the destruction but also the people living there, and this relationship touches the heart.”

During his stay in Gaza, “there were continuous fights and explosions, some of them closer, some other farther, but almost continuously. At first, it’s a bit daunting, but then you get used to it,” he said. “For them, it has become quite normal ... even for the children.”

Cardinal Pizzaballa met with the displaced Christian community, spoke with the faithful, celebrated Masses and led prayers. He visited the cemetery, where he blessed the graves of the faithful departed, especially Nahida and Samar, the two women killed inside the parish compound on Dec. 16, 2023.

The patriarch also visited some destroyed parish structures and the Greek Orthodox parish of St. Porphyrius; he also blessed the bakery of a Christian family that has recently resumed its operations. He also celebrated the Solemnity of Pentecost with the community of Gaza and administered the sacrament of confirmation to two young parishioners named George and Salama.

Among those who entered Gaza with Cardinal Pizzaballa was Father Gabriel Romanelli, the parish priest of the Holy Family Church in Gaza, who has finally been reunited with his community. Additionally, Father Carlos Ferrero, the provincial of the Institute of the Incarnate Word; religious sisters from the Institute of the Incarnate Word; and two Missionaries of Charity sisters also entered and stayed at the parish in Gaza.

According to the Patriarchate, currently in the Catholic compound of the Holy Family there are just under 500 Christians, including 60 children with disabilities cared for by the sisters. In the Orthodox compound, there are about 130 Christians and 40 Muslims. About 40 to 50 Christians are stuck in the south of the Gaza Strip. There are only about 50 Catholics left in all of Gaza, almost all of whom are taking refuge at the Latin parish.

“I met all the families,” Cardinal Pizzaballa told journalists. “It was necessary to be together, to try to listen to each person, to be with them. Even though we don’t have immediate solutions, it’s important to be there, to offer comfort, closeness and solidarity. I wanted to assure them the support of the Church and that we’ll be there, we’re not disengaged at all, but we’ll keep helping them as much as we can, according to the current situation.”

Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, during the May 20, 2024, press briefing with a small group of journalists at the Latin Patriarchate headquarters about his recent visit to visit the Catholic community in Gaza from May, 15-19, 2024. Credit: Marinella Bandini

| Marinella Bandini

One of the concrete signs of this closeness comes from the “Memorandum of Understanding” signed on May 14 between the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Order of Malta, establishing a joint humanitarian mission. 

Leaders of the Knights of Malta have been in contact with the Patriarchate since November 2023, but at that time, it was not possible to consider an intervention, and no one could imagine that the war would last so long. 

“Around Easter, we felt that it was time to do something,” Cardinal Pizzaballa stated.

He added: “We want to establish a food and essential-goods distribution center and a field hospital outside our compound, accessible to everyone.” The first aspect that needs to be addressed is that of essential goods.

“Some supplies are coming in; the issue lies with distribution,” the cardinal said. 

The other aspect is health care. 

“In the entire northern part of the Gaza Strip, there is only one operational hospital, which is not sufficient. The Knights of Malta are experts in field hospitals in war zones. What’s important is to start and then gradually expand to involve the collaboration of other institutions.”

“People are also asking for psychological support,” the Latin patriarch shared. “We are currently figuring out how to intervene in this regard. The traumatic impact of the war on the population is enormous.”

Cardinal Pizzaballa made a further appeal for an end to the conflict:

“The sooner it ends, the sooner we can start rebuilding more peaceful solutions.” 

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