Fr Gabriel, the Parish Priest of the Holy Family Catholic Church in Gaza, has returned to his community after more than seven months. He had been denied re-entry due to the ongoing conflict, but has finally been readmitted through being part of Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa’s visit to the area last week.

No way home

Fr Gabriel had been unable to return to his parish in Gaza since 7 October 2023. He had been in Bethlehem at the time and originally planned to return to Gaza on 6 October. He had delayed his return to buy medicine for a Sister of his parish. Vatican News explains:

‘The mere fact of postponing his departure by one day…  prevented his return due to the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7.’

Although Fr Gabriel had been refused re-entry to Gaza, he continued to work desperately to promote peace. An opportunity to go home arose finally on16 May, when the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, planned a visit to the parish. Fr Gabriel was given permission to return to Gaza as part of the delegation.

A humanitarian catastrophe

Since October, Gaza has been suffering a humanitarian catastrophe, with Palestinian death tolls one of the highest rates of any major recent conflicts. An estimated 35,000 people have been killed. Over two thirds of these are thought to be children and women, and many of those have died of dehydration and malnutrition rather than injury.

Fr Gabriel was invited to the UK by the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales and stayed with Fr Anthony Chantry – the National Director of Missio. In a conversation with Fr Gabriel, Fr Chantry noted:

‘You must be the only person in the world who’s trying very hard to get back to your people in Gaza… everyone else wants to get out, but you want to go back. You are a missionary from Argentina, and that is the mark of a true missionary.’

Joy and calm amid the wreckage

Having now returned to Gaza, Fr Gabriel told Vatican News:

‘The Lord has given an enormous blessing. Cardinal Pizzaballa managed to visit the parish he knows very well, as well as the families. He entered all the homes of many Catholic and Orthodox families.’

Fr Gabriel told the media outlet that he feels

‘great joy for being able to return with the Patriarch’s delegation. I am in the parish and will stay here.’

In Gaza, destruction and pain are sometimes mitigated by the calmness of the people. Fr Gabriel told Vatican News:

‘The situation is paradoxical; there is serenity among many of our parishioners. Despite the truly enormous suffering, they remain serene and place themselves in the hands of the Lord. Of course, they are very concerned about what will happen. Some are sick, some are injured, many have left, and some are thinking of leaving, but many, many, many are thinking of staying.’

Fr Gabriel, with many others in the parish community are determined to stay and support the many people who remain. This includes around 500 Christians taking refuge in the parish compound and the Sisters of Mother Teresa. They are also reaching out and helping their Muslim neighbours.

Pope Francis’ support

Pope Francis is personally supporting the community in Gaza. Fr Gabriel told Vatican News:

‘The Holy Father calls every day to give us words of comfort and his blessing. He asks us to protect the children and always encourages us to keep going.’

And he shared his hope that:

‘…humanitarian aid can be delivered, all hostages and those deprived of freedom can be released, and thousands, thousands of injured people can receive treatment.’

With your help

With help from supporters like you, we can ensure missionaries can walk alongside our sisters and brothers, like those in Gaza, who are most in need; helping them experience the freedom and dignity that comes from being a child of God. Please continue to pray for Fr Gabriel and his parish, that:

‘…peace may reign over Palestine, over Israel, and that the Lord may grant the necessary ceasefire, even though it seems impossible, as a first step towards justice and peace.’ Pope Francis

This article was adapted by an original piece from Vatican Media.