Gaza Church Reports Precipitous Drop in Number of Christians
The Gaza Strip is a harsh and difficult place to live, a small area often described as an open air prison. While Gaza is a predominately Muslim area, Christians do live there. Within the confines of Gaza is only one Catholic Church, and a congregation of 130 parishioners where there used to be 1700. Muslim background believers also live in Gaza, their risk of persecution even greater because of their conversion. The harshness of living in Gaza makes faith difficult, as the area can feel dangerously claustrophobic for Christians since they are a religious minority living in a rigid community.
01/17/2018 Gaza (NCROnline) – Even when a situation is hopeless, people must not lose hope, Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town, South Africa, told parishioners at the Gaza Strip’s only Catholic parish.
Concelebrating Mass at Holy Family Parish in Gaza Jan. 14, the archbishop encouraged Gazans to hold fast to hope, despite the difficult conditions they have lived under for a decade. Israel has blockaded Gaza since the election of the Hamas-controlled government in 2007. Egypt also has imposed restrictions at its border crossing, so travel movement is slow.
Brislin was in Gaza as part of the annual Holy Land Coordination, in which bishops from North America, Europe and South Africa meet with Israeli and Palestinian groups to promote dialogue and peace. This year the focus is on education and young people, and the importance of education for building peace in the region.
The archbishop told Catholic News Service that, on his third visit to Gaza, he noticed more movement along the Gaza-Israeli border and more reconstruction since the 2014 war. But he said the people he spoke with expressed more frustration than in the past.
“The young people feel they must decide between staying in Gaza or leaving to find schools and jobs in other parts of the world,” said Brislin. “This affects the Christian community. The young people who stay in Gaza are the real heroes. They are willing to sacrifice in order to create families and Christian life in Gaza.”
This frustration stems from the feeling that nothing is being done to improve the situation in Gaza, so young people see no sign of hope for their future, said Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton, England.
Gaza has a total unemployment rate of 47 percent, while young people face 70 percent unemployment, he said, calling the Christian community a “courageous community as a minority community.”
“It is important to listen to their needs,” he said.
Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, told CNS that Gazans “are scraping by, making a living, a poor living, but making the best out of the situation and demonstrating the resilience of the human spirit.”
Nevertheless, Cantu expressed concern at the shrinking number of Christians in Gaza, noting that only 130 Catholic parishioners remain.
“Not long ago, there were 1,700,” he said. “The numbers of Christians in Gaza is dropping precipitously. It is just sad to hear, because obviously there is little to no opportunity for young people. There is little encouragement for them to stay.”
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