Bri­tish car­di­nal pays rare visit to Gaza’s Chris­tians

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

GAZA CITY: The leader of the Ro­man Catholic Church in Eng­land and Wales vis­ited the Gaza Strip yes­ter­day, hop­ing to give a spir­i­tual lift to the ter­ri­tory’s tiny Chris­tian mi­nor­ity. Car­di­nal Vin­cent Ni­chols praised Gaza’s Chris­tians, whose num­bers have dwin­dled dur­ing a decade of Ha­mas rule and an Is­raeli-Egyp­tian block­ade. “There’ve al­ways been Chris­tians here. Their num­bers are small, but I be­lieve their faith is strong,” he said.

Be­fore Ha­mas took over Gaza in 2007, the Chris­tian pop­u­la­tion in the coastal en­clave was over 3,000. To­day, just 1,200 Chris­tians re­main, most of them Ortho­dox. Chris­tian lead­ers blame the shat­tered econ­omy, con­flict with Is­rael and the block­ade for en­cour­ag­ing Chris­tians to move out. But com­mu­nity mem­bers have also com­plained that they do not feel com­fort­able un­der Ha­mas rule.

Chris­tians and their prop­erty have oc­ca­sion­ally come un­der at­tack since Ha­mas seized power, but it’s not clear if they were tar­geted by the Is­lamic mil­i­tant group or mem­bers of more ex­treme fac­tions. Ha­mas de­nies it mis­treats Chris­tians. Car­di­nal Ni­chols led Mass at the Holy Fam­ily Church yes­ter­day, call­ing on Mary to “pray for the pro­tec­tion” of the Chris­tian com­mu­nity in Gaza.

He first vis­ited Gaza in 2014 the end of a 50-days of fight­ing be­tween Is­rael and Ha­mas. More than 2,200 Pales­tini­ans, in­clud­ing hun­dreds of civil­ians, were killed, ac­cord­ing to Pales­tinian and UN fig­ures. In Is­rael, 66 sol­diers and seven civil­ians were killed. Thou­sands of build­ings and homes in Gaza were dam­aged from the fight­ing. The car­di­nal said yes­ter­day that while he saw “some signs of re­build­ing, there is an aw­ful lot of dam­age that is still un­touched”. “The whole world is wor­ried about the sta­bil­ity of the Mid­dle East,” where both Chris­tians and Mus­lims “are per­se­cuted and mur­dered by the ex­trem­ists,” he said.

— AP

GAZA: Car­di­nal Vin­cent Ni­chols, Arch­bishop of West­min­ster, greets wor­shipers af­ter a Sun­day mass at the Holy Fam­ily Catholic Church yes­ter­day.

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