UK cardinal visits Gaza to offer support to tiny Christian minority

(Photo: LWF Jerusalem / Mark. Brown)The Lutheran World Federation's Augusta Victoria Hospital's second medical team left for Gaza on August 4, 2014. Photo: LWF Jerusalem/M. Brown

Being a Christian in Gaza after a decade of rule by Hamas which aims to establish an Islamic state in Palestine is not easy while there is an Israeli-Egyptian blockade on the tiny enclave bordering Israel and Egypt.

So when the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales Cardinal Vincent Nichols visited the Gaza Strip on Nov. 6 he sought to give a spiritual lift to the territory's tiny Christian minority.

Nichols praised Gaza's Christians, whose numbers have dwindled over the past 10 years, The Times of Israel reported.

"There've always been Christians here. Their numbers are small, but I believe their faith is strong," he said.

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Before Hamas, which Israel views as a terrorist group, took over Gaza in 2007, the Christian population in the coastal enclave was over 3,000. Today, just 1,200 Christians remain, most of them Orthodox, the Catholic Herald reported.

Christian leaders attribute the devastated economy of Gaza, conflict with Israel and the blockade for leading Christians to move out.

But community members have also expressed discomfort living under Hamas rule.

Christians and their property have occasionally come under attack since Hamas seized power, but it's not clear if they were targeted by the Islamic militant group or members of more extreme factions, Catholic Herald reported.

Hamas denies that it maltreats Christians.

Leading Sunday Mass at the Holy Family Church, Nichols called on Mary, the mother of Jesus to "pray for the protection" of Gaza's Christian community.

The British Catholic leader first visited Gaza in 2014 at the end of a 50-days of fighting between Israel and Hamas.

In that conflict more than 2,200 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, were killed, according to figures cited by Palestinian authorieis and the United Nations. In Israel, 66 soldiers and seven civilians were killed, some of them in rocket attacks from Hamas.

In Gaza thousands of buildings and homes were damaged due to the fighting. The cardinal said that while he saw "some signs of rebuilding, there is an awful lot of damage that is still untouched."

Some Palestinians charge that Israel will not let them rebuild in many instances.

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