As the war rages on, ACN helps save lives in the Holy Land
The Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem has confirmed that shrapnel from Israeli army strikes on buildings near the Church of the Holy Family destroyed water tanks and solar panels on the roofs of parish structures during the past weekend. Cars and other parts of the complex were also damaged. The parish complex has run out of fuel, depriving the community of electricity or stable communications. “Only a miracle prevented a big catastrophe from happening to us”, says a local source to the international charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
In the early morning of Tuesday, 12 December, the charity was also informed of the existence of an unexploded rocket just on the parish’s boundaries. “Imagine the level of trauma among children and all the people there in case it explodes, now it is impossible to dismantle it unless the Israeli army itself intervenes”, the local source told ACN.
While the situation in Gaza becomes more dramatic every day, thousands of Christians in the Holy Land have already benefited from ACN-provided support, including meals, food coupons, rent payments or utilities bills and medical supplies.
Christians lose everything in Gaza
“We set up committees to support the work, including a counselling and spiritual committee; operations; storeroom and supplies maintenance; health; transportation; and safety committees. This was the best way to share the burden and keep people busy during the time of lockdown and war”, says G.A., a Christian from Gaza whose testimony was sent to ACN.
“Finally, on the 48th day of the war, the ceasefire was declared, and it was an opportunity to move around and go check on our home. It was devastating to see that our apartment, which is on the top floor of a four-story family-owned building, is completely destroyed, with only one room remaining! We collected a few items and returned to the safety of the Church complex waiting for an end to this ugly war so that we can begin the process of rebuilding our lives”, G.A. adds, concluding with a word of thanks to the benefactors who have made this aid possible. “The support provided to sustain our lives during this time of need is very much appreciated.”
Most of the Christian population, which was only around 1000 souls when the conflict began, has taken refuge in the Catholic parish, where ACN funds have been used to purchase medicine for those with chronic illnesses, and ingredients to make meals.
Another Christian from Gaza, identified as J.M., recalls how his entire world crumbled beneath his feet. “On the 27th day of the war, word was received that our neighbourhood was attacked. I waited until the shelling subsided a bit and I went to check on our building – which included several other Christian families as well – only to find out that the whole residential building was completely demolished and there is nothing remaining. Everything we owned, including all my childhood memories, has become history. I returned to the Church and broke the news to my parents and the other Christian families who have been taking refuge with us. The next day, I took the key off my keychain, as I no longer need it to go home!”
So far, 22 Christians have died in Gaza as a result of the war. Seventeen died when the Orthodox complex was struck by a bomb, and five others died from lack of medical care.
Keeping hope alive in the West Bank and Jerusalem
Although the West Bank has been spared the large-scale devastation visited upon Gaza, the war has taken its toll in a different way. According to information received by ACN, over 3000 Palestinian Christians have lost their jobs due to the total paralysis of tourism-related businesses. Besides these, an estimated 800 Palestinian Christians, including doctors, nurses and teachers lost their jobs due to the cancellation of permits to enter Israel.
In the West Bank the assistance provided by the charity has mostly taken the form of food coupons which can be redeemed in certain supermarkets for a selection of essential goods. “The aim of this support is not only to address immediate subsistence needs, but also to help sustain the dignity of the Christian families in the Holy Land”, says Marco Mencaglia, director of projects for ACN International.
The vast majority of Christians living in Jerusalem are Palestinian Arabs, and when the most recent war began, many also found themselves unemployed due to the freezing of the tourism sector, while others, according to information sent to ACN, were fired out of spite.
“In Jerusalem, the economic burdens on Christian families have reached staggering proportions, particularly for those who found themselves abruptly unemployed due to the halt in tourism. The impact deepened as some Christian workers were subjected to layoffs by their Israeli employers, just for being Palestinian. This form of retribution added an additional layer of hardship for families already battling the shockwaves of conflict. The concerns extend beyond economic woes; families residing close to, or within, settlements are haunted by worries about their security. The volatile atmosphere, compounded by the news of the war, has left these families navigating a precarious existence”, says Mencaglia.
In Jerusalem, besides food coupons, a large slice of ACN funding has gone directly to financial assistance, helping to pay utilities bills and rent, in what has become an extremely expensive city to live in.
The Invisible Church
Finally, a chunk of ACN-provided financial aid is also going to the Vicariate for Migrants and Asylum Seekers (VMAS), sometimes known as “the Invisible Church” in the Holy Land. This is a very significant community, composed of up to 100 thousand people of at least eight different nationalities. Many of them lived and worked very close to the border with Gaza, and were deeply affected by the outbreak of violence in October, having had to relocate with no prior warning.
Besides providing them with direct assistance, ACN funding is being used to host them in Christian homes, including monasteries and guesthouses, where they can stay until it is either safe to return to the areas they had to flee from, or they find new options.
“With the war entering its third month in Gaza, and with few visible signs of improvement, we will continue to assist the Christian community in the Holy Land, hoping to secure its survival in the land where the Church began. ACN has already provided emergency financial aid and decided to continue its support with two other crucial aid projects for Christians over the coming weeks. We ask all our friends and benefactors not to cease praying for peace”, says Marco Mencaglia.