Father Mario, Parish Priest
Father Mario is from Brazil, but has been based in Gaza for the last 3 years. The Latin Parish serves the community through the Church and Pontifical Mission projects. These are projects that focus on not only the material needs of people in Gaza but the spiritual ones too.
“I’ve been here for 3 years, but I’m still not used to the situation here. Working here is very different to working in Brazil! The parish is very difficult. We concentrate on working with Christians, but also building relationships with our Muslim neighbours. We have 3 Christian schools here in Gaza but only 10% of the students are Christians. We try to get to know our students and have friendship with them, as they are the future leaders here in Gaza.
Our work is focussed on two areas – material help for Christians and spiritual assistance and support. I’m used to helping people but in Brazil it happens the other way round – people give money to the Church rather than the Church giving money to the people! I find it hard but then I read the story in the bible about Jesus passing the blind man who called out for him for mercy. Jesus asked him what he wants and then heals him. So I think this has to be our work here.
The spiritual side of our work is the most important. We teach that there is only one way – to follow Jesus Christ. We run our Mass and church services, preaching, working with young people, and holding confession. We use the Church for activities for those that can’t leave Gaza. All the children come, for them this is part of their family life, which they often don’t get at home. It’s important for their faith.
There are so many problems facing our young people today. They want to get married, but there aren’t enough Palestinian Christians, and they can’t get to the West Bank to meet others. Culturally its much more difficult for young women as they are considered ‘past’ the opportunity when over the age of 25. Young men need financial support if they want to get married because there are no jobs, so most are unemployed. They can’t build their own houses or support a family on their own. We try to get young people to stay here, but we know that life here is very hard, and none of the young people we know want to stay here. Thankfully there are places like the YMCA where at least they can spend time together as friends and family and take part in activities.
There are only 1200 Christians left in Gaza, and of these 130 are Catholics. When I arrived 3 years ago there were 1500 Christians so 300 have left in 3 years. It’s a lot.
Our projects include a kindergarten and school, and a home for children with disabilities that the nuns here in the Latin Parish run. The Pontifical Mission has also supported us by funding a new multi-purpose hall. We have 5 people working for the church now (young Christians) on the job creation programme, which is great.
During the 52 days of the Gaza war Pope Francis was sending us messages of support. We all coordinated together as churches and church organisations. We were standing together with our people. We knew about what the people needed than the UN did. We had clean water available, here and at the YMCA. People could reach us so they collected water, and clean clothes and food. During the ceasefire we went out to communities to help. We distributed money and food. So all the churches worked together, and in that time the Christian profile in Gaza was raised hugely. That’s what we want people to remember and to hear.
We ask you to pray for us for three main things:
- To be strong in our faith
- To end the occupation
- For the political situation
Our reason for being here is eternal salvation. Jesus said ‘pass by me this suffering, but if not my will then yours be done’. He asked for people to be with him in heaven and for this he didn’t ask under God’s will but because of his work for people’s salvation. Our occupation and suffering is also our temptation. We can’t just focus on that and ignore our main role as Christians. Salvation is our purpose.”