Waiting in Gaza, still hoping for permits

JERUSALEM — Since the announcement of the pope’s pilgrimage was made, local church organizers have said they would request some 250 travel permits from the Israel Civil Administration for Gaza Christians to participate in the Bethlehem Mass May 13.

The pope can’t come to Gaza, they said, so they would bring Gaza to the pope.

PALESTINIANS-EASTER/

A member of the Missionaries of Charity prays with others at Holy Family Church in Gaza City on Easter. (CNS/Reuters)

But two days before the Mass, the new parish priest in Gaza, Father Jorge Hernandez, is frustrated and says he and two Missionaries of Charity may be the only Christians from Gaza who will be at the Mass.

“What is for certain is that I should have known something about the permits by now and I don’t know anything,” Father Hernandez told me this morning after he had passed through the Erez Checkpoint. “I have left Gaza and I still don’t know.”

He and the two nuns have foreign passports and so can leave Gaza without a permit.

Now the rumors are sprouting, as they inevitably do when people are frustrated; as he was making his way to Jerusalem, Father Hernandez said he received a phone call from Gaza saying that 100 permits have been issued — but only to the Greek Orthodox community.

More officially, an exhausted-sounding local church spokesman for the papal visit confirmed that 100 permits were approved, but he did not know the denominational breakdown of those who received one. And, he said, they are still hoping that more will be issued.

Still, said Father Hernandez, in order to reach Bethlehem for the Mass, people need to leave Gaza at the latest by tomorrow.

“It is ridiculous,” he said.

“Maybe tomorrow we will get an answer. As soon as I get to Jerusalem (later today) I will start contacting some people.”

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