'He gives us courage': Pope Francis regularly calls Palestinians in Gaza church

Almost daily phone calls from the Pope give hope to 700 Palestinians sheltering in church in northern Gaza

Pope Francis regularly calls Palestinians in Gaza church

Pope Francis regularly calls Palestinians in Gaza church
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Gaza

Pope Francis makes almost daily calls to a small Catholic community in a church in northern Gaza that is giving refuge to about 700 Palestinians who have lost their homes in the Israel-Gaza war.

He speaks daily to a priest and nuns at the Church of the Holy Family, who say he asks how they are coping, blesses them and prays for peace.

Pope Francis says to us, ‘hello’, he asks how we are doing
Sister Nabila Saleh of the Rosary Sisters School, Gaza

“Yes, every day, every day, the Holy Father calls us,” Sister Nabila Saleh of the Rosary Sisters School in Gaza told The National.

“He gives us courage, strength, he prays for us.

“Pope Francis says to us, ‘hello’, he asks how we are doing.”

When the first call from the Pope came in on October 16, it took the congregation by surprise.

Churchgoers posted a video online of the conversation played over a phone speaker with Father Youssef Asaad, a priest, and Sister Nabila as people gathered in a church stairwell.

Parishioners in the last remaining Roman Catholic church in Gaza have since received calls from the Pope almost every day, except for a few days when air strikes disrupted communication.

Pope calls for end to war

Sister Nabila Saleh said they give the Pope details of how they are managing and ask when hostilities will end.

“We ask if they are working for peace, when the war will end, and every time he gives us blessings,” said Sister Nabila, who heads an adjacent Catholic school in which hundreds are sheltering.

“When he tells us they are working to make peace – we get hope.

“We tell him of the situation around us – how we live every day, the situation in the church and outside the church.”

Pope Francis has repeatedly called for a ceasefire, entry of more humanitarian aid and appealed for the release of hostages.

In a recent address from Rome’s St Peter’s Square, the Pope prayed for “the Palestinian and the Israeli people: May the Lord bring them to a just peace".

“There is great suffering. Children are suffering.

“The sick and the elderly are suffering and many young people are dying.

“Let us not forget – war is always a defeat.”

Let us not forget – war is always a defeat
Pope Francis

Back in Gaza, the nuns and priest are worried about food and water supplies running out for the people in the church compound, which is sheltering about 700 people, including 100 children.

“We don’t have electricity, internet, communication very often,” Sister Nabila said.

“In the supermarket, people are fighting for food. Outside it is dangerous.

“Until now we have food, we buy water, but we don’t know what will happen next week.

“We hope the war will stop soon.”

Palestinian officials said more than 11,000 people, almost half of them children, have been killed in more than a month of Israeli strikes in Gaza.

The strikes began after October 7 when Israel vowed to destroy Hamas whose fighters stormed into south Israel killing more than 1,400, mainly Israeli citizens, and took 240 people hostage.

Safe sanctuary

The Israeli army has warned people in north Gaza to evacuate to the south for their safety.

Church officials said Christians fear they will be targeted in the south where Israeli strikes have hit schools, hospitals and shelters.

“When the bombings start, we go inside the church,” Sister Nabila said.

“We hope the church is a safe place.

“It is very difficult when there is bombarding around us, we have 100 children of different ages.”

Some Catholic parishioners did leave last month after about 16 people were killed when an Israeli air strike hit a building near the Greek Orthodox Saint Porphyrius Church, which is near by.

Christians who took refuge in the Orthodox church shifted to classrooms and offices in the Roman Catholic church grounds.

“The majority of them came here, now we are 700 people with eight sisters and one priest,” Sister Nabila said.

“When they bombarded the building of the church, we were really scared.

“Still people don’t want to leave.

“Where will they go because everywhere, in the south also, there is bombarding.

“In Gaza we don’t have a safe place, so we live here.”

Daily prayers

The sisters and priest engage the children in prayer and songs to keep their minds away from the bombing.

Mass is conducted twice, in the morning and afternoon, often by candlelight and the routine gives parishioners some respite.

“We live in a war ([zone], people need supporting,” Sister Nabila said.

“We try and have fun with the children, we sing and pray.

“But it is more than 30 days now, the war is heavy and destroying everything.

"We pray together at Mass so this war can finish.”

Vatican News, which publishes regular updates on the Pope, confirmed thathe was in daily contact with Gaza’s Catholic community in the Holy Family church.

Fr Gabriele Romanelli, the parish priest, told Vatican Media that he was grateful to the Pope for calling every day “to say ‘hello’, ask how they are doing and to impart his blessing”.

Fr Gabriele was in Jerusalem when Hamas attacked and has not been able to enter Gaza since but stays in contact with the church.

Updated: November 13, 2023, 2:26 PM