The priest leading the Gaza Strip’s only Catholic parish has met Pope Francis at the Vatican and thanked him for his support of those suffering in the war-torn territory, reports the Catholic News Service.
Argentine Fr Jorge Hernandez of the Institute of the Incarnate Word had a 45-minute private meeting with the Pope last week, just days after the start of a truce between Israel and Hamas, which controls the coastal territory.
The 36-year-old priest told Vatican Radio that the Pope continued to offer his prayers and encouragement. He said the Pope told him: “The Gospel demands the sacrifices that Jesus Christ asks of every one of us, everywhere. It’s up to you to give witness to Jesus Christ there, in the land that saw him suffer, that saw him die, that also saw him, however, come back from the dead. So, be strong, have courage, keep going!”
Fr Hernandez and three Missionaries of Charity were the only religious left at Holy Family Church during a 50-day campaign between Israeli forces and Hamas militants.
While those who could were encouraged to evacuate Gaza, the priest and the three religious stayed behind in the midst of the heaviest rocket fire to care for 29 severely disabled children and nine elderly women. They later opened up the parish school to shelter some 1,200 Palestinians who fled their homes during the airstrikes.
After meeting the Pope, Fr Hernandez told Vatican Radio how important Francis’s support was during the ordeal.
“He even sent us an email that we immediately translated into Arabic, and that’s how it was given to the whole Christian community, which was enormously grateful,” the priest said.
Read full article: Pope to Gaza's Catholics: Be Christ's witness in midst of conflict (CNS)
Francis tells Gaza priest: ‘Be strong, have courage and keep going’ (The Catholic Herald)