The only Catholic church in the Gaza Strip held somber Easter celebrations on Sunday for hundreds of displaced Palestinian Christians who have been sheltering within its compound since the war began nearly six months ago.

The Holy Family Church is in Gaza City, in the northern part of the strip, an area that has suffered some of the heaviest Israeli bombardment since October and where the global authority on food security says a full-scale famine is imminent.

The families who have taken refuge at the church have been “scraping to get by” for months with limited food and “almost nonexistent” medical supplies — the same as all Palestinians in northern Gaza, including Muslims celebrating the holy month of Ramadan, said Father Davide Meli, the chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. “It’s a high holiday for all of us,” he said.

The priest of the Holy Family parish, Father Gabriel Romanelli, was in Bethlehem when the war began on Oct. 7, and Israeli authorities have repeatedly denied him permission to return to Gaza, according to Father Meli.

More than 500 people are sheltering at the Holy Family Church and approximately 300 others are at the historic Saint Porphyrius Greek Orthodox Church nearby, Father Meli said. Together, he added, they make up the vast majority of Gaza’s tiny and tight-knit Christian population.

Both churches have been attacked during the war. An Israeli airstrike killed 18 people at the Saint Porphyrius church in October, according to the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which condemned the attack as a war crime. The Israeli military later said it was targeting a nearby building.

At the Holy Family Church in December, Israeli snipers killed a mother and daughter inside the church compound and injured seven others who rushed to help them, according to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Church officials said Israeli rockets also hit a convent within the compound earlier that day, destroying the building’s sole generator and leaving some of the dozens of disabled people living there without working respirators that they needed to survive.

The Israeli military denied knowledge of the incident, which Pope Francis condemned as an attack on a church “where there are no terrorists, but families, children, people who are sick and have disabilities, sisters.” He called for an immediate cease-fire in his Easter address on Sunday.


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