-- Catholic News Agency
Amid Violence, Priest Opts To Stay With Parishioners In Gaza
GAZA CITY, July 20 (CNA) .- Argentinean priest Father Jorge Hernandez, pastor of Holy Family Parish in the Gaza strip, stayed with his parishioners despite three missile strikes near his parish earlier this week.
"Crime is on the rise. Little children are getting sick from fear, stress, shockwaves and the continuous noise," he said in an online statement. "Parents are doing everything possible to distract them so that this crude violence does not overwhelm them."
Since July 7 Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip have fired more than 1,300 rockets on Israel, and the Israelis have responded with nearly 2,000 airstrikes. The recent escalation in violence between Israel and Hamas followed the June kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens and the July 2 killing of a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem.
Thousands of Israeli soldiers invaded the Gaza Strip July 17 in an effort to destroy Hamas' weapons arsenals and their tunnels into Israel. Earlier that day, 13 Hamas militants attempted to enter Israel through one tunnel, only to be stopped by an Israeli military strike.
Several days ago, the Missionaries of Charity brought 28 handicapped children and nine women under their care to the parish because they considered it to be a safer place. They all plan to remain in Gaza with Father Hernandez.
The five-hour truce to allow humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip was also a window for hundreds of people to evacuate.
Among those who were told to leave their homes were three Argentinean nuns from the Institute of the Word Incarnate who also work at the parish. The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem began permanent Eucharist adoration at the parish, and a special Mass "to pray for forgiveness for all, for justice and peace," was celebrated there on July 16.
Father Hernandez, who is a member of the Institute of the Word Incarnate, provided a testimony of his experience in the Gaza Strip which the institute has published on its website.
"Today, Sunday, we were able to celebrate Holy Mass, thank God, with seven nuns and five brave men. Apart from that, it's all edifying given the circumstances."
"I think that so far yesterday was the worst day of this war. The rockets are fired from here nonstop. Various cities near Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are being affected," the priest said.
"Three days ago the Israeli army ordered the evacuation of residents on the border with Israel. They are distributing fliers and airing spots on radio and TV. And people are beginning to leave. To where? Anywhere, it doesn't matter."
"In practice, before bombing a house, the Israeli army calls on the phone to warn the family to leave. After giving them a certain amount of time, that home is destroyed," Father Hernandez recounts.
"Nevertheless, Hamas demands that these residents return to their homes. 'There is no need to make room for the Zionist enemy,' they say publicly. We think it is instead to use civilians as human shields."
"What's certain is that crime is rising," the priest noted. "That's what is happening here."
Despite this, "we are well," he added. "There are some people who have thanked us for our presence here. They tell us every once in a while: 'You are not going to abandon us, are you?'"
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