Fr. Gabriel Romanelli was born in Argentina, but he has been a missionary in the Middle East for 28 years. Five of them he spent at Holy Family parish—the only Catholic Church in the Gaza Strip.
Before the escalation of conflict last year, he had moved to Bethlehem. But since October 7, he has not been able to return to his parish. Fr. Yousef As’ad, another missionary in Gaza, has taken charge of the parish, home to 600 refugees. From afar, Fr. Romanelli has been able to stay in touch with them.
Fr. Gabriel Romanelli, the pastor Holy Family Parish in Gaza, says: “They get up in the morning and clean the church because there are so many people. People are sleeping everywhere. The elderly and some injured sleep in the church. They say the rosary, celebrate Holy Mass, then go to other services. It takes a lot of work to organize the parish, which has become a refugee camp. It is difficult.”
Among the refugees are Catholics and Greek Orthodox. Fr. Romanelli says that “prior to the October 7 attacks, there were 135 Catholics in the Gaza Strip. Twenty-nine of them have died from bombings or lack of medical care. And two women were killed by snipers. To cope with day-to-day life, the people staying in the parish in northern Gaza have organized themselves into committees for cleaning, collecting food and water, caring for the sick and teaching children.”
Fr. Romanelli adds, “Everyday life is difficult. They cook twice a week and distribute what they can. They get very little and at very high prices. Since the army left, people can go out during the day, but they don't go far. So, they go out and each one gets what they need. They share it.”
Fr. Romanelli says that regular reception of the sacraments is what keeps the refugees hopeful.
He continues, “If Gaza is not hell, it is because Jesus is still there in the Eucharist and continues to reach out to souls through pastoral action.”
Baptisms and anointing of the sick continue to be celebrated in the parish. Pope Francis also calls Fr. Yousef every day to receive news first hand and to give his blessing.