One priest is pleading for prayer as the population of Christians living in Gaza has dwindled to only 1,000 left, with those remaining living in harsh prison-like conditions.
According to Father Mario da Silva, the pastor of the territory’s sole Catholic church, in the past six years the number of Christians living in the Gaza strip has plummeted from 4,500 to just 1,000. Father da Silva is asking for prayer from all the Faithful as they face threats from radical Islamists and prison-like living conditions.
“Gazans live like it’s an open air prison since we can’t leave. We can’t visit relatives, look for work, medicine or good hospitals on the outside. It’s really a prison. People don’t have any money and the situation is terrible. There is widespread poverty.”
Since Hamas came into power over the Gaza strip in 2007, both Israel and Egypt have instituted economic blockades to limit attacks on Israel, restricting the flow of people and goods. Father da Silva arrived in 2012, hoping things would eventually improve, however reality has turned out much different.
“The situation was already very difficult. Over time, you would hope the situation would get better, but it’s only gotten worse.”
Father da Silva says that those living there have only three hours of electricity a day and face water shortages, with most Gazans being unemployed. Those who do work however, live on “about $150-200 a month.” He says these harsh conditions are the cause for the mass exodus of Christians from Gaza.
“Every year Christians have one permit to leave and visit the holy places on Easter and Christmas, and many of them never return.”
Father da Silva says while Christians living there don’t generally experience persecution from Muslims, fear is growing from the rise of ISIS and their attacks on the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt.
“There is now a lot of fear with the news that the Islamic State has arrived, coming from the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. There have already been threats. There is also fear of the Salafist groups who are coming in from the south.”
Several Catholic groups are working in Gaza to try and stem the loss of Christians in the area. Father da Silva works with twelve sisters from the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará, the Missionaries of Charity, and the Sisters of the Rosary.
“We’re doing two things: first, preaching Christ and the importance of Christians in the Holy Land, and preaching the importance of forgiveness and of carrying the cross is what we most try to do.”
They also work to provide jobs for the most at-risk groups of Christians to flee the area.
“With the help of institutions such as the Pontifical Mission Societies or the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Church tries to give work to more that 30 young people so they won’t leave, because they are mainly the ones who leave.”
Father da Silva says that while on a human level it was a sad celebration of Easter, there was joy all around as Christ has risen and our spiritual salvation comes from that.
“Pray much for this, which is what we mainly ask for, because only God can change the situation we’re going through in these countries here in the Middle East.”