22 January 2018

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Christians celebrate Easter in Gaza amid restrictions and fear of terrorism

Fr Mario Da Silva, Gaza’s parish, talks about the half-empty churches due to fear following attacks in Egypt. Fewer permits were granted for pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Christians in Gaza are fewer and fewer.

Gaza (AsiaNews) – "The situation is very difficult. Easter celebrations did not go well. There is a lot of fear among Christians because of the attacks in Egypt. Few, Catholic and Orthodox, have attended Mass, both. Only 50 people came to our church. As far as I know, 25 were Orthodox,” said Mario da Silva, a Brazilian priest in charge of Gaza’s Holy Family Latin Parish.

The source of fear is the Islamic State group (IS). Its groups are active in the Sinai Peninsula, just a few kilometres from the Gaza Strip. Its latest attack took place near the St Catherine monastery.

Fear aside, there were no incidents. "Thank God," said Fr da Silva. Still, the atmosphere in the Gaza Strip remains tense because of the social and economic problems affecting the residents. Christians, about 1,300 in total, "suffer like all Palestinians, because of their many problems."

For the clergyman, the difficulty in obtaining travel permits to go to Jerusalem affected Easter celebrations.  "This is the second year that we asked Israel for family permits to go on pilgrimage on the holiday. People can choose to visit the holy places at Easter and Christmas. Last year we were able to send mostly young people under 35. The official figure was 891, but I believe the actual number was 800. For them it was their first time outside of Gaza."

This year, the number of permits for Easter has declined significantly. "The official number was 700, but in fact there were far fewer. Some of these permits were sent to dead people, or people no longer in Gaza. Or were given to parents and not their young children, and vice versa. The actual number of permits was around 500, perhaps less.”

Until the last moment, Christians in the Holy Land had hoped for an open Jerusalem despite announced restrictive Israeli security measures.

For Fr da Silva, the greatest concern is that the Christian community is disappearing from the Strip. "There are fewer and fewer. Those who manage to get out do not come back. They seek peace elsewhere. On feast days, the church is increasingly empty."

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