As war rages in the Gaza Strip, the Catholic Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem worries about the future of the Christian community in the region. Currently, there are still more than a thousand Christians—predominantly Orthodox—living among close to two million Muslims. Many consider leaving the country.
“Humanly speaking, I think that the desire to leave will be the strongest. It’s really important to keep in mind the present context: numerous homes have been reduced to ash, so, in practical terms, staying will not be an easy thing.” Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa is not optimistic in his interview with RAI on October 26, 2023, while the fighting intensified in the Gaza Strip.
The leader of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, now returned to the disaster unfolding in Jerusalem after the terrorist attacks perpetrated by the Hamas organization on October 7, nevertheless encourages Christians to remain on the land which saw the birth and childhood of Christ: “I do not believe that people should necessarily take the easiest path—that of departure, to find a calmer and more peaceful life elsewhere.”
On the contrary, the esteemed prelate says, “We must try to rebuild—but I know that it’s easy to say that, and that to survive is another thing entirely.”
As for the consequences of the conflict in the medium and long term, the patriarch remains uncertain about the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations: “it seems to me that coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians will be impossible in practice; we must see where that will lead for certain, and what that will mean in the life of Christians here. But one thing is certain: nothing will be like before.”
He also repeated his desire to return, as soon as possible, to the Gaza Strip, to visit the only Catholic parish there, placed under the patronage of the Holy Family. “If I could, I would go immediately with other priests to help and support the parishioners,” says the cardinal, who nevertheless remains clear-headed.
“We must wait for the situation to become clearer. At the moment, we are in a period of instability, and it is difficult to know what will happen. What is certain is that there is much suffering, rage, and hatred. It isn’t good.”
Mgr. Pizzaballa believes the local church and the Holy See also have an important role to play in the dramatic situation unfolding in the region, even if only in the thorny matter of Israeli hostages: “We must do all that is in our power to put an end to this situation, above all to return the hostage children to their homes and to ensure the safety of all the children,” insists the cardinal.
The Latin patriarch here becomes more political, repeating his support for the two-state solution proposed in the Oslo Accords of 1993—recalled as well by Pope Francis in a televised interview on November 1: “The world must understand that there are two peoples here—notably the Palestinian people who await a response to their aspiration to become a nation,” he explained.
This remains an essential question for the esteemed prelate, and one which will not rest without an answer: “As long as this issue remains unresolved, no other problem can be resolved—political or religious.” But it’s difficult at the moment to imagine significant progress in this area in the near future.
Winter risks being long and hard for the Christians of Gaza, caught between the Israeli army and the Islamists of Hamas.