ASIA/HOLY LAND - Father Ibrahim Faltas: War also darkens the future of Christians in the Land of Jesus

Tuesday, 9 April 2024 middle east   jerusalem   area crisis   wars   local churches   pope francis  

Jerusalem (Agenzia Fides) - If you want to see Hell - said the Syrian Bishop Jacques Mourad at the beginning of the last war in Gaza - today you have to go to the Holy Land, where the massacres of innocents have turned into extermination.
Christians in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel suffer with their companions on the path and destiny belonging to other faith communities. And the war – explains in an interview with Fides Agency the Egyptian Franciscan Father Ibrahim Faltas, Vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land – also casts new shadows on the future permanence of the baptized communities in the land of Jesus. A wounded humanity that in the time of trial - repeats Father Ibrahim – bears witness to his mendicant faith, even in the simple gestures of sharing pain and suffering.

Father Ibrahim, how are the Christian communities of the Holy Land experiencing this dark moment?

IBRAHIM FALTAS: The Christian communities of the Holy Land are experiencing it badly. War is always a defeat, as Pope Francis says, and for Christians who are a minority in the Holy Land, it becomes a very difficult tragedy to face. In Gaza, about eight hundred Christians have found refuge in the parish of the Holy Family, another two hundred in the Greek Orthodox church. Many have died, the survivors have lost everything. They have to share the same space for all their needs, and there is a shortage of food, water, medicine. A few days ago I was impressed by the smile of the vice-parish priest, who showed me a red apple, the first fruit I had seen after six months of war and which he shared with other parishioners.

What is happening in the West Bank and Israel?

FALTAS: In the West Bank, Christians, who are mainly dedicated to tourism, do not have jobs due to the lack of pilgrimages. They see no future for their families and many would like to leave the Holy Land. Also in Israel, Christian communities live and suffer the consequences of war. In the north, in Nazareth and Galilee, they are very close to another war front. However, all Christians in the Holy Land are bearing witness to their faith in an exemplary way.

How are Christian communities in Israel and the West Bank in contact with their brothers and sisters in Gaza?

FALTAS. Unfortunately, the Christian communities of the Holy Land cannot have contact with each other, despite the physical proximity of these places. They were already subject to so many restrictions before the war and for the last six months it has been impossible to think of initiatives to support Gaza. Thank God, technology has made it possible for us to hear from each other and to sustain each other in prayer.

Israel said the goal of the war was to "eliminate Hamas." Is what is happening justifiable as a "side effect" to achieving that objective?

FALTAS: I cannot make a political analysis of this war but, like everyone else, I see the consequences of this absurdity. Children, like all children in the world, are the first victims of these atrocities. Thousands have lost their lives, thousands more remain under the rubble, others have suffered serious amputations and many will carry the physical and moral signs of the war for life. Who will erase the psychological traumas of children, of all children, regardless of their nationality or religious belief? An important sign is the reception for treatment in Italian hospitals of so many children from Gaza. Since January, about 160 people, children and their companions, have been able to reach Italy, and for this we must thank the generosity of the Italian people.

What is happening in Jerusalem?

FALTAS: In Jerusalem we experienced a Holy Easter without pilgrims and without Christians from the West Bank, who were not allowed to go out and participate in the Easter celebrations in the Holy City. The climate is gloomy and hope is fading. Christians, especially in the West Bank, suffer many restrictions and the lack of work is also a source of great concern. What is especially striking is the lack of confidence in the future of young people, the sadness of not being able to build their life in the land where they were born.

How are the Pope's speeches on war and calls for a ceasefire perceived?

FALTAS: Pope Francis' appeals support and give strength to the Christians of the Holy Land and, believe me, not only to Christians. He was the first and, for a long time, the only one to call for a ceasefire. He is a man of peace and suffers greatly from the war.
When I met him I felt and saw his suffering, in his words and in his eyes. In the letter that he sent to the Christians of the Holy Land for Easter, the tenderness of a good father who suffers for his children shines through. I hope that the powerful of the earth will concretely accept his calls for peace, truth and justice .

How do you evaluate the choices and the moves of the international community in the face of the war in Gaza?

FALTAS: I am not a political analyst, but I have lived in the Holy Land for thirty-five years and I can say that I know the situation well. For years I have believed that the international community has to intervene to try to bring peace to this part of the world so in need of peace. The war has brought destruction, death and suffering to Gaza and not only to Gaza. Only with real and concrete intervention by the international community will it be possible to return to negotiations. Despite recent ceasefire resolutions, I still do not see the possibility of a definitive solution to this devastating war.

In the midst of so much destruction, what testimonies of faith have impressed you the most?

FALTAS: The Lord is great and merciful and he supports this wounded humanity. I see it in the eyes of the children and the defenseless of this tormented Holy Land. I see it in the simple gestures when sharing pain and suffering. This is the strength of the faith of the Christians of the Holy Land. Their life here is a continuous testimony, and we must continue to support them. (Agenzia Fides, 9/4/2024)