Stuck for days under the shelling of the Catholic area of the Gaza Strip, three focolarini were liberated only as a result of intervention by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and the French, Korean and Italian consulates. They managed to get way under escort by a United Nations convoy. This is an interview with two of them who are experiencing at first hand the start of the new crisis.
‘It’s not possible to understand much of what’s happening, nor what people want to achieve. Certainly things are really bad, and the impression is that we’re on the edge of an abyss,’ I was told in a phone call with two focolarine in Jerusalem who had been caught by surprise in the Israeli bombardment while visiting Focolare friends in the Gaza strip.
‘We left on the Wednesday, Corres from Korea, Gérard from France and I, to visit our community,’ says 35 year-old nurse Francesca, living for more than ten years in Jerusalem. ‘We wanted to go there at other times in the last few months, but various circumstances meant the trip was put off. As soon as we arrived, after hearing the deafening explosion, we were told of the death of Hamas’s military leader. From that moment on, except for very brief moments, it was effectively impossible to leave the tiny Christian quarter where we were staying.’
Corres took up the story, ‘We had brought aid collected by the Movement’s friends for our friends in Gaza: clothing, educational material, games for the children, food. We distributed these few things among our Christian friends, in a deeply serene atmosphere. We are witnesses of the generosity of these people, who often when about to receive gifts pointed out other families more in need than they. Despite hearing the bombardment, we can say we were all quite calm. We prayed together, met small groups who wanted news of our community in Israel, Palestine and the world. We played with the children and took tea with young people and adults.’
Francesca spoke again, ‘We stayed on the ground floor of the houses, without any shelter, without siren warnings: because shelters and sirens don’t exist in Gaza. People live in constant danger. We were struck by the faith of these people, their endless hope, so strong that it was they who encouraged us. They showed no fear and kept on saying to us: “We are in God’s hands.” Certainly we could hear the explosions (it was impossible not to!), but we carried on living the normality and simplicity of a life where we are brothers and sisters of one another. We prepared meals for parties, despite everything. One of our friends went as far as the harbour to buy fresh fish for us and one morning they cooked pizza in the oven for our breakfast.’ The most difficult moment was at night when, with each explosion, the windows and the ground shook, as the planes flew overhead of the people in Gaza City.
Of course all three focolarini had registered their presence with the UN who were preparing an expedition to withdraw foreigners from the Gaza Strip. For two days they went to the exit point, but each time there was a problem that stopped them leaving, until a UN convoy was able to escort people away.
Francesca concluded by saying, ‘I brought away with me a picture of those days: we had taken colouring books and paints with us. A boy painted a house under a tree. But at the centre of the house there was a missile. These children have grown up without peace, without calm.’
By Michele Zanzucchi (Source: Città Nuova online)