Church aid group warns of ‘devastation’ amid efforts to reach Christians in Hamas war

Palestinian children rest in a refugee tent along the Gaza Strip Palestinian children rest in a refugee tent along the Gaza Strip on Oct. 20, 2023, in Khan Yunis, Gaza. | Credit: Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images

A major global Christian aid group is warning of looming “devastation” amid the Israel-Hamas war as it struggles to get direly needed humanitarian supplies to civilians affected by the deadly conflict. 

Aid to the Church in Need, a charity organization whose roots stretch back to the end of the Second World War, is active in the Holy Land and has stepped up efforts since the Israel-Hamas war erupted earlier this month after Hamas attacked Israel and invaded its borders, resulting in the deaths and kidnappings of hundreds. 

ACN spokeswoman Maria Lozano said the group was in the midst of preparing its Christmas 2023 aid campaign when the war broke out on Oct. 7. 

“The tragic events of [October] have escalated the need for assistance into an emergency situation,” she told CNA. 

“We had committed, for example, to supporting the Holy Rosary Sisters in repairing their school in Gaza, which had already been damaged due to the ongoing conflict between Palestine and Israel,” she said. “Now, of course, this project has been put on hold, also because the school is located in a neighborhood that has been heavily bombarded. They need medicine and food.”

The group is also working in the West Bank and has been in contact with the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. “ACN has offered its support to assist them in any way possible during this dire situation,” Lozano said. 

‘Terrible economic crisis’ looms

The conflict, which has reportedly seen more than 4,000 killed in the Gaza Strip from Israel’s counterattacks, is also bringing about what Lozano warned could be a major economic catastrophe. 

“Israel is in a state of war. More than 90% of tourists have already left the country and future pilgrimages are being canceled,” she said. “This will translate into a terrible economic crisis for many Christian families, since around 70% of Christians work in the tourism sector.”

That sector includes those who earn a living “selling souvenirs, as bus drivers, receptionists, and so on,” Lozano said. 

The closure of checkpoints has also brought about a health crisis for civilians in the region, particularly those who have serious medical conditions.

“Those who suffer from chronic illness are in a terrible situation,” she said. She noted that “even basic necessities such as food, rent, water, and electricity are a difficulty.” 

“Many were already poor, but now they are absolutely desperate,” she said. “ACN will also offer support to them.”

Workers have been straining to get aid into Gaza since the conflict began. President Joe Biden announced this week that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi agreed to allow 20 trucks carrying humanitarian aid into Gaza from the restricted Rafah crossing, which connects Egypt and Gaza. 

Another pervasive fear in the area, Lozano said, is that a major military offensive might “drag Lebanon into the war,” which “would entail a huge escalation of violence and death” that could spread all through Lebanon and Syria.

On its website, ACN says its beginning can be tied to a request by Pope Pius XII to Dutch priest Father Werenfried van Straaten in 1947. 

“Ever since its earliest days, ACN has been geared towards charity and reconciliation, providing assistance to Christians in need,” the group says.

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Asked what ACN’s most pressing need was in its efforts to aid the stricken region, Lozano said: “Above all, what is needed is the return of peace.”

“Without peace, the consequences are devastating,” she said. “Not just for Israel and Palestine, [but] also for all the Christians in the region.”

“As a Christian, I believe that above all else, [prayer] is the only thing that can change this situation,” Lozano said. But the organization is also dependent upon “the generosity of singular people,” she noted.

“From all over Gaza, Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Israel, ACN is receiving stories of pain and fear but also faith, sacrifice, and generosity,” she said. “This is the Christian way of saying that evil should not have the last word.”

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