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Pope Francis calls Gaza priest as Israel announces blockade

Palestinians move towards the Nahal Oz border crossing with Israel, east of Gaza City, on Oct. 7, 2023. / Credit: MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images

Vatican City, Oct 10, 2023 / 10:32 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has spoken by telephone with a Catholic priest serving in Gaza, according to the news agency of the Italian bishops’ conference.

The pope called Father Gabriel Romanelli, pastor of Holy Family Church, the only Catholic Church in Gaza City and in the Gaza Strip, Oct. 9, AgenSir reported.

Romanelli told the Italian news agency that Francis shared “his closeness and prayers for the entire Church community of Gaza and all the parishioners and inhabitants” and imparted his blessing on them.

The priest, who is currently stranded in Bethlehem after visiting the town following a trip to Rome in late September, said he thanked Pope Francis for his appeal for peace after his Angelus message on Sunday.

The Israeli military announced Oct. 9 it was imposing a total blockade on the Gaza Strip after Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, launched an attack on Israel over the weekend.

Romanelli, who is an Argentine priest of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, Oct. 9 that the situation “continues to be very bad” and he has “never seen things like this time.”

The Gaza parish is sheltering more than 80 Christians and Muslims amid Israeli airstrikes, the priest said.

Hamas militants have killed hundreds and taken dozens of hostages since launching a large-scale invasion of Israel over the weekend.

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said nearly 300 individuals were reportedly killed at an outdoor music festival targeted by Hamas forces at the start of the incursion.

Shortly after the invasion on Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel was “at war.” The country shortly thereafter officially declared war on Hamas, with military officials promising a major offensive against the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip in response to the invasion. 

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