Despite the suffering, Romanelli said that the faith of the Roman Catholic community in Gaza, which numbers about 135 and includes several priests and religious, has only strengthened.
“The big yearly activities that we are used to holding in our parish and schools will not take place this year,” he said. “But we started to think spiritually … the birth of Jesus is at the center of our celebrations … To hold different spiritual activities for the parishioners to help prepare spiritually for Jesus to be born in our hearts and lives by cleansing the grotto of our hearts and experience the simplicity of a grotto.”
Though the Catholic community in Gaza is small, Romanelli says it is very active and devout. The parish holds two Masses daily, a daily rosary, regular Eucharistic adoration, and hosts multiple ministries for men, women, and children to grow in faith.
According to Romanelli, the Catholic church there also runs three of the five Christian schools in Gaza, which serve both Christian and Muslim students, as well as ministries for the sick and injured.
Even though the war has heavily impacted the community, Romanelli said that many of the parish’s ministries have gone on and the sacraments continue to be offered.
“In regard to the spiritual life, despite all the things we lack, it is still a beautiful, rich, and important life in the parish,” he said. “We try to be one, not only assisting the Christians but also the Muslims [and] to anyone who comes to Gaza, allow them to experience the special presence of the Lord.”
Preserving the presence of Christ in Gaza
Romanelli said that tradition holds that the Holy Family passed through Gaza as they were fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath and that they passed through again on their way to Nazareth.
Thus, Romanelli said that Holy Family Parish in Gaza has three missions: first, to foster and preserve the presence of Jesus Christ in the area; second, to care for the spiritual life of the people; and third, to testify to the love of Jesus to all.
Now, as hundreds gather at the parish seeking shelter and spiritual solace and the Advent and Christmas seasons commence, Romanelli said that the parish’s mission is especially important.
Romanelli shared an Advent message, addressing Christians not only in Gaza but also throughout the world. He said “we need to return to the pillars of our faith, to read and meditate on the word of God, attend adoration and go to confession.”
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He encouraged Christians worldwide to seek out the sacraments and spend time with Christ in the Eucharist this Advent and Christmas season. He also encouraged Christians to make spiritual acts of mercy by visiting and caring for the lonely, sick, and poor.
Romanelli especially encouraged Christians to turn to confession this Advent season. As missiles continue to strike around them, Romanelli said the Christians in Gaza remain focused not on those who can kill the body but instead on what can kill the soul.
“We tend to forget that we need a spiritual healing, we forget that we can die spiritually, but there is a solution for everything, and it’s through confession and repentance,” he said. “In sum, we should renew our spiritual life through confession, penance, and repentance.”