(FMC) One week after the beginning of the truce, we were given testimony by the Catholic pastor of the only Gaza parish, Holy Family. Fr. Jorge Hernandez recently returned from a trip to Rome, giving his testimony to none other than Pope Francis- at his request.
Fr. Jorge Hernandez has a face that looks tired but not desperate nor resigned. The pastor of the Latin Church in Gaza dedicated to the Holy Family flew to Rome to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican shortly after the signing of the truce in the Gaza Strip. He has now returned to the Holy Land to bring the Holy Father’s message back to his community.
Fr. JORGE HERNANDEZ,
“The Pope asked me the whole time about the general situation for Christians, and for Gazans. He listened in silence serenely but still worried, as if he was trying to think of a solution. The Pope greatly encouraged Christians to stay, and he summed it up with this phrase of the Gospel: ‘to be the salt of the earth.’ The salt of the earth is always scarce, but there is need for it.”
The pastor of Gaza also went to the Vatican to personally thank Francis for being close to the people during the weeks of conflict.
“He personally sent us an e-mail that we then translated into Arabic and that we diffused to all of the Christians in Gaza, who were thankful for this very sensitive gesture that Pope Francis made.”
Their thankfulness extends to all of those who in different ways were close to the people of Gaza.
“A huge thank you to all the people of the world who have been with us, praying for us and to the sick who offer their sacrifice for peace in the Holy Land.”
The story of Father Jorge gives a voice to the bombings that lasted for a month and a half bombing, as seen through the eyes of Christians in the Gaza Strip.
“There have been difficult moments of great danger, moments between life and death, in which we have accompanied people who have had misfortunes. Do not forget that there have been Christian deaths. So, our community being so small, composed of 136 Catholics and of 1,000 Orthodox Christians, is all one family, and we felt pain and suffered together as one family.”
In a simple way, Fr. Jorge captures the strength of those who, with courage, but above all sustained by faith, roll up their sleeves every day for their community.
“There is a mountain of work to do, some of which we are not even aware of yet because we have not had time. This war took place; we were able to go to Rome, and I’m coming back here, and I don’t even really know where to begin. Anyone who has experienced war knows what it is like after a war. At this time, all of us must be strong and start over. I am not only talking about Gaza but both parties who took part in this war, includng Israel. Because nobody wins in a war, everyone must pay the consequences of war in their own way.”
The truce—according to Father Hernandez—is a first step toward peace but only under certain conditions.
“We say along with Pope Francis that peace is possible. Peace demands and seeks, justice, without which you cannot talk about genuine peace.”
During the long and complex period of reconstruction, we must rediscover—as requested by the Pope—the deeper sense of the Christian presence in a land that is so troubled.
“I think that the presence of Christians in the Middle East, in the Holy Land, in Gaza, should be looked at in a supernatural way. If we remove this spiritual and theological dimension of the Christian presence, there will be nothing left to guard in Jesus Christ’s land. And that is the purpose of this; that is the way.”
Father Jorge, Argentine by birth, is part of the Institute of the Incarnate Word. He has been serving the communities of the Middle East since 2001 and, after spending time in Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia, he has been in Gaza since 2009.
“Patriarch, Archbishop Fouad Twal asked us for this favor for the Church of Gaza. And we accepted. As a congregation, we try to go to the places that are hard for people to reach or where otherwise no one else would go.”