Sunday, January 18, 2009

Father Manuel of Gaza: "Between slavery and death, for us there is no choice"


I wrote an earlier article about Father Manuel Musallam, the pastor of the Catholic parish in Gaza City. I read the news today about the Pope's appeal for peace in Gaza and decided to do a search. I wondered if Father Musallam would even still be alive. First I found this short article titled "Pope expresses support for Christians of Gaza".

Benedict XVI has repeatedly expressed "his closeness to our brothers and sisters living in the Gaza Strip, who have suffered so much because of the persistent conflict that has caused a serious humanitarian crisis." The words come in a statement from the pontifical council Cor Unum, which says that the Pope has decided to send "a concrete sign of his personal support for the small but fervent Catholic presence in Gaza."

"The aid," continues the statement from the dicastery, in charge of managing the pope's charitable initiatives, "has been sent to Fr. Manuel Musallam, pastor of the Church of the Holy Family, to the Missionaries of Charity, and to other religious congregation serving the most vulnerable people in the birthplace of Jesus, now tragically afflicted by death, suffering, destruction, while the people weep for peace."
Upon doing a deeper search I found the following article in Spanish titled "La escalofriante tragedia de Gaza narrada por su párroco" - "The chilling tragedy in Gaza told by its pastor". I searched for an English version, but was unsuccessful. So I've translated it from Spanish using Google translator and then edited it to make it more readable. My apologies to Father Manuel for any errors in translation. I assume the original was in Arabic so some nuances may have been lost in the multiple translations, but I have done my best to convey his original meaning.
GAZA, Saturday, 17 January 2008 (ZENIT.org) .- Here is the message that Father Manuel Musallam, parish priest of the Latin Church in Gaza, wrote to an ecumenical prayer meeting for peace and justice in Jerusalem (see ZENIT, January 6, 2009).

* * *

From the Church of God in Gaza to the beloved holy People of Palestine and to the whole World:

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God our Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

From this valley of tears, from Gaza drowning in blood, the blood that has stifled the happiness in the heart of one and a half million people, I bring to you these words of faith and hope. I do not use the word "love", that word has been stuck in our throats even in the throats of Christians. The priests of the Church raise the banner of hope so that God will have mercy and compassion on us and to give Him a chance to rest in Gaza, in this manner the light of Christianity that was ignited in the early church, by Deacon Felipe will continue to shine. May the compassion of Christ raise our love up to God, even though at this time it is in "critical condition".

With all my heart as your priest I ask you to pray for the soul of our daughter, our beloved daughter of the Holy Family School, the first Christian who died in this war: Cristina Wadi al-Turk.

She died on Saturday morning, January 2nd 2009, from the effects of fear and cold. The windows of her house had been left open to protect the children from the effect of the bomb blasts on the glass. The rockets passed over her home, affecting the whole neighborhood and causing everything to tremble in an ominous way. She was not able to withstand all that and went to complain to the Creator and ask for a new home in a place where there were no tears or rockets or crying, but only joy and happiness.

Dear brothers in Christ, what you see on your TV screens and what you hear is not the whole Truth of the suffering that the people of Gaza are enduring. Neither television nor radio is capable of transmitting in all its immensity that which is happening in our homeland right now.

The siege of Gaza is a hurricane that has grown little by little until reaching the point where it has converted itself into a crime against humanity. The people of Gaza now present their tragic case for every man of "good will" to pass judgement. In the coming times it will be the time for God to pass judgement.

The children of Gaza, with their parents, are forced to sleep in the hallways of their houses, if they still even have a house, or in the bathrooms, in order to protect themselves, trembling with fear caused by the rumbling and the shaking, the terrible shaking caused by the F-16 jet fighter planes.

It is true that until now the targets of the planes have been mostly the government buildings and the headquarters of Hamas, but all these buildings are located among people's homes from which they are separated by not more than 6 meters, which is the legally allowed distance between buildings. Because of this people's homes suffered severe damage and many children were killed due to this. Our children live in a constant state of panic and terror, and this makes them sick. This and the lack of food, poor nutrition, poverty, cold ... The tragedy that hospitals are going through has reached a critical state. These hospitals, before the war, lacked emergency facilities, and now they are being overwhelmed by thousands of wounded and sick caused by these events, it has reached the point where operations must be done in the hallways of the hospitals. Many of the wounded are sent via the Rafah crossing to Egypt, but those that manage to get through do not return, because the majority die along the way. The people in the hospitals are scared, sad, almost hysterical.

I want to now tell you the story of what happened in the hospital to the family of Abdel Latif. One of his sons disappeared in the first wave of bombings. They looked for him in the homes of his relatives but they did not find him neither on the first nor on the second day of the war. On the third day, when the family was searching for him in the hospital, they came across a member of the Yarad family who was taking care of one of his sons who had been injured and was mutilated. The child had lost one of his legs and his face was disfigured not by the bombs from the aircraft but by the effects of the shock waves caused by the explosions. Pieces of broken glass from the windows were embedded in him when part of the hospital in which he was staying was bombed. Abdel Latif approached to console the Yarad family, but when he saw the injured child, he realized that this child was his son and not the son of the Yarad family. To resolve the dispute between the two families, they decided to wait for the injured child to wake up to and to declare which family he belonged to. In this way the family of Abdel Latif was able to recover their son, who had been cared for by the Yarad family.

I briefly describe this in my letter asking for help from you, and also from God. Our people in Gaza are having to live like wild animals, not people. They eat but they are not nourished; they cry but they have no tears. There is neither water nor electricity nor food, only fear, panic and the blockade ... Yesterday the bakery refused to give me bread. The reason: the man refused to give me bread made with flour that is not healthy, not out of some disrespect for me as a priest. The good flour has all been consumed and now he can only offer what he has left in large quantities, which is flour unfit for human consumption. I for my part have sworn not to eat bread for as long as this war lasts.

We ask that you offer to God your most ardent prayers and that no Mass or religious service be celebrated without remembering before God the tragedy in Gaza. For my part, I continue sending notes to our children to encourage the hope which lies in their hearts. We have decided to pray together every hour this prayer: "Lord of peace, grant us peace. Oh Lord of Peace, grant peace to our country. Lord have mercy, have mercy on your people and do not ever become angry with us." I ask you now to rise and pray with us. Your prayers, united with ours, will move the whole world and will teach us that the miracle of love which has been detained along the way and which still has not reached your brothers in Gaza, is not the love of Christ and his Church . For the love of Christ and the Church political or social differences are not an obstacle, neither are wars or any other cause. When we receive your charity we feel that we here in Gaza have not been forgotten by the rest of the Church of Christ, a holy Church, Catholic, and that our Muslim brothers who are among us are part of our family, our destiny, with whom we share everything and with whom we form, all of us together, the Palestinian people.

But amid all this, the people of Gaza continue to reject war as a solution for peace, and are convinced that the only path to peace is peace itself. In Gaza we are patient and in our eyes you can read: "Between slavery and death, for us there is no choice". We want to live to worship the Lord in Palestine and to bear witness to Christ. We want to live for Palestine, not to die for its cause. But if one day death comes, we will die happily with courage and strength.

We beseech that when you offer your prayers to God that you ask that our Lord Jesus Christ give us true peace, so that "the wolf and the lamb can live together, the ox can graze next to the lion, and a child can put his hand in the mouth of a snake without being bitten".

May the peace of Christ, that peace which invites us to be one body, be with you and protect you. Amen.

Your brother,
Father Manuel Musallam,
Priest of the Latin Church in Gaza

3 comments:

Marshall Hopkins said...

I am a Catholic privileged to live in tranquility and freedom, and my heart aches for the suffering of
all the people of Gaza, and especially Fr. Manuel and his congregation It is my constant prayer that justice and peace may come. I travelled to Palestine in 2006, and learnt to love and respect the Palestinian people who have suffered so much for so long.
Marshall Hopkins

clodagh said...

My own heart is filled with sorrow and grief but most of all, frustration. I am on my kness in my mind praying before God to some how give me the chance to do something..anything. I want to scream up and down the streets where I live, the church I attend mass and in the school in which I teach. I am reminded of Arch Bishop Oscar Romero. He cried out to the world and the church for help, but none came. He believed that the church finds it's self in it's most pure reality among the poorest of the poor and those who suffer all day and all night. The church of Christ is Gaza...and his own passion most visible there in. I don't know if anyone will read this ever as I found this link on face book but if by chance a persons eye's fall on these lines I beg you to pray... I do not know what else to do. In your prayer could you ask God to allow me to somehow become practical help in these day's. I am willing to do anything go anywhere and sacrafice everything in order to make some kind of difference.

Frank Hope said...

@clodagh

I am also reminded of Archbishop Romero of El Salvador. Thankfully, Father Manuel survived the attacks on Gaza.

While the Vatican has expressed support for the people of Gaza, it is sad that the Pope will not visit Gaza during his upcoming visit to the Holy Land in May. I can only hope that he will find some way to express his support for the long suffering People of Gaza during his trip.