Gaza parish priest: ‘I knew victims of attack on Catholic church’

Fr. Gabriel Romanelli, the parish priest of the Holy Family Catholic Parish in Gaza, laments the murder by Israeli snipers of two Christian women who had taken refuge in the church compound.

By Antonella Palermo & Roberto Cetera

An Israeli sniper shot and killed a mother and a daughter on Saturday as they left the church building inside the compound of the Holy Family Catholic Parish in Gaza.

Speaking to Vatican News, the parish priest, Fr. Gabriel Romanelli, lamented the murder of his two parishioners.

“The situation already goes beyond tragedy,” he said. “After the days of truce, the area of al Zeitoun started to be very active, with many bombings.”

On the night before the attack, bombings intensified in the area around the parish compound, injuring three people inside the church.

Attack on Catholic parish in Gaza

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem released a statement saying an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) tank fired a rocket which struck the Convent of the Missionaries of Charity, destroying the building’s generator and setting off a massive blaze that damaged the house.

Later on Saturday, an Israeli sniper shot Nahida Khalil Anton, an elderly woman, and her daughter, Samar Kamal Anton, who had reportedly exited the church building and were walking toward the Sisters’ Convent.

On Sunday, Pope Francis condemned the attack on the parish, saying there are no terrorists hidden inside, but only “families, children, people who are sick and have disabilities, and nuns.”

“Some say, ‘This is terrorism. This is war.’ Yes, it is war. It is terrorism,” he said. “That is why the Scripture affirms that ‘God stops wars… breaks the bow, splinters the spear’ (Psalm 46:10). Let us pray to the Lord for peace.”

Active Catholic family

In the interview with Roberto Cetera, Fr. Romanelli said he personally knew Nahida and Samar, along with all the parishioners of the Holy Family parish.

“The mother who was killed, Nahida, and her daughter, Samar, were very talented people,” he affirmed. “Nahida was the mother of a large family, with many children, almost all married… Among the unmarried children was Samar, the woman who was killed. Samar was the cook at the Convent of the Sisters of Mother Teresa. Both, mother and daughter, participated in all activities.”

Fr. Romanelli added that Nahida was part of the Women’s Confraternity, the St. Anne group, as well as in other parish groups, often bringing her children and grandchildren.

“And Samar too,” he said. “Samar took on many responsibilities, helped us organize many activities, also with young people and with the St. Anne group. Everyone, the whole Anton family, is very connected to the church, to the parish. It is a great sorrow.”

Prayers for peace

Fr. Romanelli urged everyone to pray for an end to the Israel-Hamas war.

“May peace come to this Holy Land,” said Fr. Romanelli. “Let us continue to pray that all this ends, this absurdity… As we have repeated so many times, a month of war, an hour of war, a minute of war, only increases the number of victims and deprives people of peace, of daily life.”

“I ask everyone to pray for the comfort of the Most Holy Madonna, the end of the war, and peace for all, for Jerusalem, peace for all the inhabitants of this Holy Land, both in Palestine and in Israel.”