I would like tell you about the interview that we had with Pope Francis, which took place on Friday, August 29, at the “St. Martha” Residence.
It was all the initiative of Pope. The appointment was for 11:00 am. I was there ahead of time, along with Father Gonzalo Ruiz. The interview lasted 47 minutes. It was in private, without journalists or photographers. The talk was very pleasant, having room even for some jokes.
We thanked the Holy Father for his pilgrimage to the Holy Land and for the fruits. We conveyed the greetings from our Patriarch Fouad Twal.
I told him that we are very few: among a total of at least 1,800,000 inhabitants, the Christians in Gaza number 1,350 of whom only 136 are Catholics.
He asked me “if I was alone in the mission.” I replied that we were two priests. That Fr. Mario Da Silva was with me, and that he is from Brazil, so “we talk about everything except football,” I said. The Pope laughed. I also told him that they were the SSVM sisters, the Missionaries of Charity, and the Sisters of Our Lady of the Rosary.
I related a bit about the war, the destruction, the hatred, the thirst for revenge, and the madness that all this means. And the Pope added: “The children, poor children”.
I mentioned to him our serious concern about the problem of the exodus of Christians and the persecution. I told him that the people want to go, that they have no future and that soon we would be left without Christians. He listened in silence, looking concerned.
He asked if there was access to food and how we managed it. I explained that food was scarce and expensive. I explained that there was shortage of food, and as way of joke, I said that I was not the most eloquent example of such a shortage. He laughed again.
At one point he said, “I have to confess that as a bishop as an Argentine and I am very proud of you – of all of you.”
He asked Fr. Gonzalez about the situation of vocations. Fr. Gonzalez replied that by God’s grace we have had an average of 85 novices in the last 4 years. He exhorted him to “take care of them and form them well.”
He said “In Argentina?” Fr. Gonzalo answered no, but worldwide. That in Chile, we have about 25 novices. The Pope added: “Yes, yes, in San Bernardo.” Then he said that many congregations were without vocations because of being too attached to material goods, and that we should go ahead as we are, in poverty and especially going to the missions.
He said that we have to keep going to all parts of the world, especially to the most remote places. Towards the end he also said, “Do not lose the joy, that inner joy.”
Certainly this meeting with the Holy Father is – for me and for the entire religious family, I think – a great grace from the good Lord. And now, being back in Gaza after having seen the Pope, I can convey to the Christians there the closeness, the certainty and the strength of the faith of Peter, as the Lord Himself entrusted to him, “And you (Peter), when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren”(Lk. 22, 32).
As we took leave, we offered the Pope a bilingual Gospel in Arabic and Hebrew, since Christ the Prince of Peace is the only one capable of uniting these peoples, and also the book “He Made them Male and Female” translated into Arabic, a symbol of our determination to evangelize these cultures, we explained to the Holy Father.
We thanked him greatly. And walking towards the door, I asked – “How does one thank the Pope?” He replied – “By praying for him.”
Let us therefore pray for the Pope and ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to protect in us the Petrine faith, exactly as Fr. Buela has taught us.
Fr. Jorge Hernández, IVE