Gaza's Catholics in line of fire

APChildren run through rubble on their way home from school in east Jebaliya, northern Gaza Strip.

As Israel sends ground troops into Gaza, the Catholic community there has said that they are "dangerously close" to the site of Israeli missile strikes.

Sister Laudis of Gaza's Catholic parish church told Fides news agency, "three missiles destroyed a house very close to the parish".

She and her fellow Sisters of Mother Theresa moved to the parish just recently, along with 28 disable children and several elderly women. They hoped they would be safer there, but as tensions increase, so do their chances of getting caught up in the violence.

Despite the danger, however, they intend to remain in Gaza, together with parish priest Fr Jorge Hernandez.

"Young children are beginning to get sick because of fear, stress, shock waves and for the continuous noise," Fr Jorge has said.

"Parents are doing everything they can to distract them by playing, jumping and dancing every time they hear an explosion."

Other nuns are preparing to leave the area, however. Fides reports that three foreign nuns of the Institute of the Word Incarnate are leaving Gaza as a result of the escalating crisis, having been advised to do so by Israeli authorities.

Meanwhile, Catholic relief agency Caritas Jerusalem is on the ground in Gaza – where it has been working since 1990 – providing aid and medical support to civilians who are suffering as a result of the relentless airstrikes.

While the estimated number of Palestinian deaths since the airstrikes began on July 8 is currently 227, Caritas reports that more than 330 people have been killed in Gaza, and at least 2,000 more injured. More than 400 homes have been totally destroyed.

"The situation is very difficult from a humanitarian point of view, people are lacking food, water and electricity," Caritas Jeruslaem's general director Raed Abusahlia explained in an interview with Terra Santa News.

"From a medical point of view there are thousands of injured people in hospitals and even then, they lack the medicines.

"Our call to all our friends around the world in parishes and dioceses, is to join us in solidarity, in prayer, and through financial assistance and humanitarian aid in order to help the people in Gaza. Not only the small Christian community, but for the entire population of the Gaza Strip."

Israeli Franciscan priest Father David-Maria Jaeger reiterated this call, telling Vatican Radio that Christians on both sides of the violence must seek peace and unity amidst the conflict.

"They can and do give witness, to Christ, to the faith in His ultimate victory over sin and evil. They give also witness to Christ overcoming our this-worldly divisions," he said.

"In the Holy Land there are both Arabic-speaking Palestinian Christians and Hebrew-speaking Jewish Christians. They all participate in the sufferings and legitimate aspirations of their respective Peoples, loyally – yet they all know that their brotherhood as believers in Christ unites them on an infinitely higher plane.

"True peace," he continued, "comes from embracing the Gospel, from becoming members of the same body of Christ. Preaching the good news, teaching and baptising members of all peoples, is the specific way in which the Church is sent out to bring peace to humanity."