(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Friday morning met with Father Jorge Hernandez, an Argentine missionary of the Institute of the Incarnate Word and parish priest in Gaza.
Speaking in Italian with Vatican Radio’s Alessandro Gisotti, Father Hernandez said the meeting with the Pope was a “grace” – and not the first. “On the contrary,” he said, “during the war, Pope Francis was always close to us.”
Father Hernandez said Pope Francis encouraged the small Catholic community “to be the salt of the earth in the land of Gaza.” He said he was particularly touched by the Pope’s message of Christian witness. The Catholics of Gaza have a special call to witness to Jesus Christ in the very land that Jesus called home, “the land that saw Him suffering, saw Him dying… but also saw Him rising.”
In a land with almost two million inhabitants, the Christian community in Gaza is a very small minority, with only 136 Catholics and about 1300 Christians total. Father Hernandez said relations between Christians are very good.
The commitment of Pope Francis, and of the Christians in Gaza, he said, “is an existential and concrete commitment… witnessing especially to the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.”
Father Hernandez said his people hope that the current truce between Israeli and Palestinian forces will endure. “Just look at the suffering of both peoples!” he said. “You need to understand one thing… with war, nobody wins. No one! Each side will have to pay the consequences, in one way or another. Ultimately, no one gains from war, we all lose. We hope that God will bless us with the strength to begin again from the start.”
In order to build an enduring peace, Father Hernandez said, we must seek to build peace with justice. “Peace requires sacrifice, but it is possible.”
Father Hernandez went on to express his gratitude to people throughout the world who have been so close to his community in the trying circumstances of recent weeks – especially the sick, “who have offered their sufferings, praying and pleading for peace.” He said the Christians of the parish of Gaza often remember those who pray for them, in the Mass, in the Rosary, and in Eucharistic Adoration. “I want to take this opportunity,” he said, “to say thank you, and God bless you.”