GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip, JAN. 19, 2009 ( Here is the message a parish priest of Gaza, Father Manuel Musallam, wrote for the ecumenical day of prayer for peace and justice, held earlier this month in Jerusalem.

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From God's church in Gaza to the beloved saints in Palestine and the rest of the world,

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

From the valley of tears, from blood-drenched Gaza, whose one and a half million residents have been robbed of the joy they once had in their hearts, I send you these words of faith and hope. As for love, that's a word that even we Christians no longer dare utter, not even to ourselves. Today, the priests of the church are raising the banner of hope. May God have mercy and pity on us and leave a remnant in Gaza. May he not put out the light of Christ, which was spread by the deacon Philip at the time of the early church. May the compassion of Christ be what reawakens our love for God, which is currently like a patient in a hospital's intensive care unit. As a priest and a father, I bear the sad news of the death of a beloved girl who was a tenth grader at the Holy Family School and the first Christian to die in this war:

Christine Wadi' Al-Turk

Christine passed away on the morning of Saturday, January 2, 2009, due to fear and cold. The windows of her house were open to protect the children from being hit by flying glass fragments, and as missiles passed over her house and her neighbors fell victim to Israeli attacks, her entire body would shake with fear. When she could not longer bear it, she cried on her Creator's shoulder and asked Him for a home and shelter with no crying, shouting, or wailing but joy and happiness.

My brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, what you see and hear on your television screens is not the complete painful truth about what our people in Gaza are going through. Their suffering is so widespread over our land that no television or radio could report the whole truth about it. The brutal siege on Gaza is a storm that escalates by the hour; it is not only a war crime but a crime against humanity. Today, the suffering people of Gaza are appealing to the conscience of every human being with goodwill, but it will soon be our just God who decides the case.

The children of Gaza have been sleeping with their families in the hallways of their homes (if they have them) or in bathrooms, for protection. They tremble with fear at every sound, every movement, and every violent F-16 attack. While it is true that so far the F-16 jets have for the most part targeted the headquarters of the government and Hamas, they are located in residential areas no more than six meters away from people's homes, the minimum distance required by construction law. That's why people's houses are severely affected by the violence, and it leads to the death of many children. Our children are suffering from trauma, anxiety, undernourishment, malnutrition, poverty, and lack of heating.

The situation in hospitals is unspeakably deplorable. Our hospitals were not properly equipped before the war, and now there are thousands of injured and ill patients streaming in, to the point that operations are being done in the hospital hallways, and many patients are being sent to Egypt via the Rafah Border Crossing. Some of them never return because they die on the way. The conditions in the hospitals are horrifying, heartbreaking, and hysteria-inducing.

I would like to tell you a short story about something that happened in a hospital to the Abdul-Latif family. One of the children disappeared during the first attack, and his parents spent the first two days of the war looking for him but did not find him. On the third day, as the family was walking around a hospital, they found some people from the Jarada family gathered around a disfigured and injured boy whose leg had been cut off. His face was distorted not because of the F-16 attacks he had suffered but because of the glass that had fallen onto his face when part of the hospital was attacked. The Adul-Latifs approached the Jaradas to console them. When they reached the injured boy, Mr. Abdul-Latif realized that it was his son and not the Jaradas'. The families argued with each other over the issue and waited for the boy to wake up and tell them who he was so that he could be taken by the Abdul-Latifs.

I will keep my letter brief. I lift our suffering up to God just as I have presented it to you. Our people in Gaza are being treated like animals in a zoo; they don't get enough to eat, and they cry but nobody wipes their tears away. Instead of water, electricity, and food, there is fear and terror and restriction. Yesterday, the baker refused to give me bread, because he did not want to let me eat something made from flour not suitable for human consumption -- which he had begun using when he ran out of good flour -- so as not to insult my priesthood. I vowed not to eat any bread for the remainder of the war.

We want you to pray to God fervently and continually and to mention the suffering in Gaza before God in every mass or service that you hold. I send short letters with Scripture to the Christian community here to bring hope to their hearts. We have all agreed to say the following prayer every hour on the hour: "O God of peace, shower us with peace. O God of peace, bring peace to our land. Have mercy on your people, O Lord, and do not be angry with us forever." I ask you to stand up now and say the same prayer. Your prayers with us will stir the world, showing it that any type of love that is not extended to your brothers and sisters in Gaza is not the love of Christ and His church, which does not let religious and social obstacles or even wars stand in its way. When your love is extended to us here in Gaza, it makes us feel that we are an indispensable part of Christ's one universal church. The Moslems among us are our brothers and sisters. We share with them their joys and their sufferings. We are one people, the people of Palestine.

Despite all that is going on, our people in Gaza reject war as a way to achieve peace and insist that the road to peace is peace itself. We in Gaza are patient and have decided that we have no choice other than bondage or death for our country. We want to live so we can praise God in Palestine and to witness for Christ -- we want to live for Palestine, not to die for her -- but if we must die, then we will die honorably and bravely.

Let us all pray together for the true peace that Christ gives. May wolves and lambs one day live together, and bulls and cubs graze together, and children be able to put their hands in the mouths of snakes without being harmed.

And may the peace of Christ, "into which you were also called in one body," be with you all and protect you. Amen.

Your brother,

Father Manuel Musallam
Holy Family Priest
January 3rd