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Holy Land leaders tell Gazans on Easter, ‘don’t lose hope’

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Holy Land leaders tell Gazans on Easter, ‘don’t lose hope’

ROME – Ahead of Easter, several church leaders in Jerusalem sent a message to the people of Gaza assuring of their closeness and support, telling Gazans not to lose hope, while the Jesuit order insisted they cannot be silent as millions face potential famine. 

Speaking to the parishioners of the Latin-rite Holy Family Catholic church in Gaza in a March 30 video message for Easter, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, said, “we want to express our best wishes of happy Easter, as much as possible.”

He was joined by Bishop William Shomali, Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem and Palestine, Father Gabriel Romanelli, Parish Priest of Gaza, and Father Davide Meli, Chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, who translated into Arabic. 

“I’m sure that also in Gaza it’s possible to celebrate Easter,” Pizzaballa said, telling Gazans that the Latin Patriarchate is praying for them, and “will try to support you as much as we can.”

With the feast of Easter taking place amid war, “we want to celebrate not only our sorrow, not what you are suffering, more than others, but we want to express our joy in belonging to Jesus,” he said. 

“I am sure that Jesus, who also came for you, will bring you the light of the Resurrection. Don’t lose your faith, don’t lose your hope, you are not alone,” Pizzaballa said, assuring Gazans that “we love you, we never forget you, and we support you always.”

Similarly, Shomali noted that for those in Gaza, the darkness of Good Friday “has lasted for six months, indeed it has been a long night.”

Echoing Pizzaballa’s remarks, he told Gazans that they are not alone, saying millions of fellow Christians and people of goodwill are praying for them throughout the world. 

“Definitely, after this long dark night, Sunday, the day of the Resurrection, will come, and this prolonged struggle will cease. God is more than able to make something good out of this evil,” he said. 

Father Gabriel Romanelli, pastor of Holy Family parish in Gaza, and who was traveling when the war broke out and has been unable to return, also sent his greetings in the video message, saying “although your experience of Golgotha has not yet ended, it won’t last forever.”

“After Golgotha, there is always an empty tomb that awaits us, the resurrection of Our Lord. The hope of the resurrection gives us strength to remain steadfast, to love one another,” he said, voicing hope that he would be able to rejoin them, and that “soon, the Lord will give us signs of a new hope.”

The current conflict in Gaza broke out following Hamas’s surprise attack on Israel, which left some 1,200 dead and over 200 others taken as hostages. Israeli military retaliated with an air and ground offensive, launching a full-scale war that has left thousands dead and pushed roughly a third of Gaza’s population to the brink of starvation.

Pope Francis in his Easter Urbi et Orbi address Sunday appealed for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, and for access to humanitarian aid to be granted as swaths of the population face starvation. 

In a previous Easter message, the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in the Holy Land called for “an immediate and sustained ceasefire” in Gaza, for access to humanitarian aid and for un-impeded access to doctors and medical staff for those who are sick or wounded. 

As the conflict approaches the six-month mark, the Society of Jesus, the order to which Pope Francis belongs, published a statement March 29 titled, “We cannot be silent.”

Six months have passed since the Oct. 7 attack, and “the guns have not fallen silent,” they said, saying they, like many others throughout the world, “refuse to be silent” in the face of the situation.

Prayers are constantly being offered, in sorrow and protest, at the “death and destruction that continue to reign in Gaza” and other areas of Israel and Palestine, causing regional repercussions throughout the Middle East, they said. 

They decried “the horrors” of Hamas’s Oct. 7, 2023, surprise attack on Israel, saying the resulting “massive Israeli bombardments” of the Gaza Strip along with the Israeli ground offensive “has left most of the Gaza Strip in ruins.” 

“We are now witness to famine and the spread of disease in Gaza,” they said, noting that official estimates pin the number of Israeli deaths at around 1,800 and the number of Palestinian casualties at roughly 32,000, “not including those still to be unearthed from under the rubble.”

In addition to the dead, there are also hundreds of thousands whose lives have been ruined, as countless people in Gaza have been left wounded, homeless, hungry, and “smitten by disease” as access to basic necessities for many is near impossible. 

Faced with this situation, the Jesuits said the cannot stay silent, and that “It is unacceptable that, despite attempts, almost six months into the present round of conflict, no one has been able to stop the killing.” 

“It is scandalous that no one has been able to ensure that the residents of Gaza have enough to eat. It is shameful that no one has been able to call the warmongers to account,” they said, voicing sadness that a violent conflict in the Holy Land “has been allowed to continue and fester as an open wound on the face of the Middle East.”

The situation “need not be this way,” they said, noting that they have been active in the region for decades, and that peace is an option.

“Death over life, vengeance over reconciliation, wrongdoing over justice, self-interest over relationship, violence over dialogue is a choice and not fated destiny. There are other choices that could be made,” they said. 

They said they would continue to work for a different future, characterized by peace and not war, repeating Pope Francis’s insistence that “war is a defeat.”

The Jesuits called for an “immediate ceasefire,” for the release of the remaining Israeli hostages in Gaza, and for negotiations to begin, starting a process “that will bring freedom, liberty and justice for all in the Middle East, the only road to true peace.” 

Follow Elise Ann Allen on X: @eliseannallen

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