"God of peace, give our country peace; God of mercy, give our country mercy."
This is the prayer that the pastor of the Catholic parish in Gaza City says every hour. His name is Mgr Manuel Musallam. Here is his story as I have been able to piece it together from various news articles.
Gaza priest cancels Midnight Mass in protest of Israeli blockade
The Institute for Middle East Understanding
Dec 25, 2008
"Midnight Mass has been canceled due to Israeli threats of invasion and escalation, and because Israel prevented Christian clerics from traveling to Bethlehem," Musallam said.
"The Midnight Mass will be replaced with a silent gathering at the Holy Family School," he said.
The Catholic priest called on Christians in the Gaza Strip to take part in a sit-in strike at the Holy Family School, where normal prayers will be read.
Bethlehem tourism is good, but some feel Christmas spirit is missing
Catholic News Service
December 26, 2009
In Gaza City, where the beleaguered Christian community gathered in Holy Family Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox joined Catholics for Mass celebrated by Msgr. Manuel Musallam, who had returned to the parish for the holiday. In November, the priest was allowed to leave Gaza to visit his hometown of Bir Zeit, West Bank, for the first time in 13 years.
As Israel attacks Gaza Strip, residents fear it's just the beginning
Catholic News Service
December 30, 2008
"We will fight against all hope. We pray and we ask God to find a solution."
The Israelis "are targeting special ... places associated with Hamas, even a mosque used by Hamas members. They are all around us. We can hear the aircrafts," said Msgr. Musallam.
"The more they attack the more they will be attacked," he said. "We are under siege. We are looking for our liberation, for our freedom."
Heartache and hope in Gaza
from Christian Today
January 3, 2009
“The people are weeping – men, women and children are weeping. They are desperate to find ways to feed themselves, how to ensure their protection.”
“Most of the families are terrified and find it very difficult. They are suffering from bombs which are going off all around us,” he said. “People are fearful but they do not want to give up.”
“I am unable to see many of my parishioners but I send them regular SMS messages offering them a spiritual word to encourage them and to help them to pray a bit,” he said.
“At the start of each hour, we agreed to say a prayer: ‘God of peace, give our country peace; God of mercy, give our country mercy.’”
“As a priest, I know I should speak about hope but people say to me ‘What hope is there?’ We have to remind people to be faithful to the Gospel and try as much as possible to keep hope,” he said.
"War does not produce peace, prisons do not guarantee stability. The highest of walls do not assure security. Peace is a gift of God, and only God can give that peace."
Gaza priest: 'We cry and nobody hears us'
National Catholic Reporter
January 5, 2009
The pastor of the Catholic parish in Gaza City described Gaza as "drowning in blood" as hospitals overflowed with patients.
"What you see on television cannot be compared to what is happening. The word love is choking in my throat. ... We are living like animals in Gaza. We cry and nobody hears us. I am asking God for mercy and pray that the light of Christianity continues to shine in Gaza."
Cristãos e muçulmanos juntos contra a guerra
[Christians and Muslims together against the war]
from a Brazilian newspaper
January 5, 2009
O único sacerdote católico da Faixa de Gaza, Padre Manuel Musallam, afirma que os soldados israelenses não distinguem mais civis e combatentes. "Trata-se de uma verdadeira guerra", disse ele.
Padre Mussallam afirma que os israelenses não somente atingem indiscriminadamente, mas estão usando armas novas e mais insidiosas: "Segundo o diretor do maior hospital de Gaza, os corpos chegam ao hospital com feridas jamais vistas em Gaza. Multiplicar os motivos de ressentimento dos palestinos, como Israel está fazendo, matando mulheres, homens e crianças que nunca pegaram numa arma, tem como único resultado distanciar ainda mais a paz".
The only Catholic Priest in the Gaza Strip, Father Manuel Musallam declares that the Israeli soldiers do not distinguish between civilians and combatants. "We're talking about a real war", he said.
Father Mussallam says that the Israelis not only attack indiscriminately, but they are also using new and more insidious weapons, "According to the director of the main hospital in Gaza, the bodies arrive at the hospital with injuries never before seen in Gaza. This multiplies the feelings of resentment of the Palestinians, the things Israel is doing, killing women, men and children that never bore arms, only results in creating even greater obstacles to Peace."
La guerra di Natale a Gaza
The Christmas War in Gaza
From La Stampa (an Italian newspaper)
January 5, 2009
[Excerpts of interview with Father Manuel Musallam. Translated by Google with some further editing by me to make it more readable. I have tried to not alter the meaning, but have a very limited understanding of Italian.]
"Forgiveness and reconciliation are words that belong to heaven and which are now spoken only by priests in the church, and not anyone else. They seem trapped in churches and sermons of the priests. Yet they are nothing but the very substance of life for Christians and Muslims! All day we hear appeals of war by Israelis and Palestinians, who speak of resistance and who speak of killing."
"We're just looking for our freedom and our dignity, instead of the continuous humiliation and treatment that is reserved for animals in a zoo, you can go visit them whenever you want, so just give them a little to eat once a day. We demand our freedom. The world should understand by now: we have a choice between slavery and death, and people will tolerate any alternative rather than slavery."
"The Christians that are Palestinians, cannot be separated from the rest of the people, they desire to defend themselves, and are obliged to do so ... On the other hand, Christians are being prevented by the Israelis from speaking freely with their own people, Israel treats priests as if they were terrorists, including the Latin Patriarch and the apostolic delegate."
"Priests in Gaza and the West Bank are not granted visas, they have been prevented from traveling, from saying Mass, and are not allowed to travel to Jerusalem and Bethlehem."
"We cannot sleep at night because of the bombing. We pray a lot."