Rome Newsroom, Dec 17, 2023 / 11:20 am (CNA).
In the latest sign of escalating strain between the Holy See and Israel over the mounting civilian death toll in the Israel-Hamas war, Pope Francis after his Angelus address on Sunday sharply condemned the reported killing of two women outside a Catholic church in Gaza City, allegedly by an Israeli sniper.
“Someone says, ‘It’s terrorism, it’s war.’ Yes, it’s war, it’s terrorism. This is why Scripture states that ‘God stops wars … breaks bows and breaks spears,’” the pope said.
In a statement Saturday, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which oversees the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, claimed that a sniper of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) “murdered two Christian women inside the Holy Family Parish in Gaza, where the majority of Christian families has taken refuge since the start of the war.” The statement said there was no warning issued by the IDF ahead of the attack, alleging that the victims “were shot in cold blood inside the premises of the parish, where there are no belligerents.”
“Nahida and her daughter Samar were shot and killed as they walked to the sisters’ convent,” the statement said, using the victims’ first names. “One was killed as she tried to carry the other to safety.” The post said another seven people were “shot and wounded” while trying to “protect others inside the church compound.”
Vatican News, the Holy See’s official news outlet, reported the Latin Patriarchate’s account on Saturday. The news report said the reported attack was “justified by Israelis” who “claimed the presence of a rocket launcher in the parish” but did not provide the source for that information. Vatican News also reported that “dozens are reported dead” following a heavy bombardment of the area around Holy Family Parish, citing the Palestinian government news agency Wafa.
As of Sunday morning Israel has not issued a statement on the alleged shootings at the parish. CNA contacted the IDF seeking comment but did not receive a response prior to publication.
‘Painful news from Gaza’
Speaking to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Dec. 17, Pope Francis expressed his deep concern over the reported attack. He also added new details beyond what was included in the Latin Patriarchate’s statement, including the victims’ full names and that the victims were targeted while “going to the bathroom.” He also referred to multiple “sharpshooters.”
“I continue to receive very serious and painful news from Gaza. Unarmed civilians are subjected to bombings and shootings. And this even happened inside the parish complex of the Holy Family, where there are no terrorists, but families, children, sick and disabled people, nuns,” the pope lamented.
“A mother and her daughter, Mrs. Nahida Khalil Anton and daughter Samar Kamal Anton, were killed and other people injured by sharpshooters, while going to the bathroom,” the pope continued.
In its statement Saturday, the Latin Patriarchate said that it is “at a loss to comprehend how such an attack could be carried out, even more so as the whole Church prepares for Christmas.”
Holy Family Church in Gaza welcomes refugees fleeing from war. Credit: Holy Family Church in Gaza
Holy Family Parish is the only Catholic church in Gaza and has been a place of refuge for Palestinian Christians to flee from the ongoing violence since the Israel-Hamas war broke out on Oct. 7.
The Latin Patriarchate also said in its statement that earlier in the day Saturday, prior to the alleged sniper shootings, the nearby Convent of the Missionaries of Charity was hit by a rocket fired by an IDF tank.
“The convent is home to over 54 disabled persons and is part of the church compound, which was signaled as a place of worship since the beginning of the war,” the statement said.
“The building’s generator (the only source of electricity) and the fuel resources were destroyed. The house was damaged by the resulting explosion and massive fire. Two more rockets, fired by an IDF tank, targeted the same convent and rendered the home uninhabitable,” the statement said. “The 54 disabled persons are currently displaced and without access to the respirators that some of them need to survive.”