Pope Francis Meets Parish Priest of Gaza

Expresses His Closeness to Those Suffering From Seven Week Conflict

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Pope Francis received in private audience on Friday Gaza parish priest Father Jorge Hernandez, during which he expressed his closeness to those who have suffered in the war-ravaged territory. 

In the 45 minute meeting, the fellow Argentine told the Holy Father that the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, of which he is a part, opened its parishes and schools in Gaza to receive refugees whose houses had been destroyed in the recent conflict.

Hostilities between Israel and Hamas ended Aug. 26th after seven weeks of rocket attacks by Hamas on Israel and retaliatory Israeli air strikes on the Palestinian territory.  The conflict left over 2,000 people dead, mostly Palestinian civilians and many of them children.

According to the Portland Trust which monitors the Palestinian economy, the recent conflict badly damaged important power plants and has led to a “critical situation” regarding water, sanitation and hygiene, with 40 percent of the population unable to access running water.

The Trust also reported in its report issued Wednesday that 15 of Gaza’s 32 hospitals are damaged and 9 remain closed. The Independent Commission for Human Rights has said that 60,000 housing united were partially or completely destroyed. The Palestinian Economic Council for Development & Reconstruction has estimated the cost of rebuilding destroyed homes and other basic infrastructure to be more than $1.7bn.

Speaking to Vatican Radio’s Italian edition, Father Hernandez said the meeting with the Pope was a “grace” – and not the first. “On the contrary,” he said, “during the war, Pope Francis was always close to us.”

The Argentine missionary said Pope Francis encouraged the small Catholic community “to be the salt of the earth in the land of Gaza.” He said he was particularly touched by the Pope’s message of Christian witness. The Catholics of Gaza, the priest said, have a special call to witness to Jesus Christ in the very land that Jesus called home, “the land that saw Him suffering, saw Him dying… but also saw Him rising.”

Father Hernandez told Vatican Radio that his people hope that the current truce between Israeli and Palestinian forces will endure. “Just look at the suffering of both peoples!” he said. “You need to understand one thing… with war, nobody wins. No one! Each side will have to pay the consequences, in one way or another. Ultimately, no one gains from war, we all lose. We hope that God will bless us with the strength to begin again from the start.”

In order to build an enduring peace, Father Hernandez said, it’s important to build peace with justice. “Peace requires sacrifice, but it is possible.”

Father Hernandez went on to express his gratitude to people throughout the world who have been so close to his community in the trying circumstances of recent weeks – especially the sick, “who have offered their sufferings, praying and pleading for peace.”

He said the Christians of the parish of Gaza often remember those who pray for them, in the Mass, in the Rosary, and in Eucharistic Adoration. “I want to take this opportunity to say thank you, and God bless you,» he said. 

Father Hernandez visited the Pope after calling in on the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem on Wednesday where he met with officials. 

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