“We are not going to abandon our people”: the Peruvian nuns who do not want to leave Gaza despite the bombings

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The twin Peruvian nuns María del Pilar and María del Perpetuo Socorro Llerena Vargas , originally from Arequipa, are missionaries in the Holy Family Parish in Gaza City, the only Catholic church in that Palestinian territory.

The nuns belong to the congregation Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará, which in turn is part of the Institute of the Incarnate Word.

Both nuns, along with nuns from other congregations, try to assist more than 600 people in the Gaza parish, including disabled children, the sick and the elderly in wheelchairs.

Israel launched its bombing campaign in Gaza hours after the Hamas attack on October 7 that left at least 1,400 dead – most of them civilians – and more than 200 kidnapped.

Israeli bombings since then have left more than 5,000 civilians dead, including more than 2,000 children, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Sister María del Pilar, in a recorded message sent from Gaza a few days ago you said that the parish did not have running water or electricity. What is the situation at the moment?

Here we are about 600 people. Like the rest of the town we don’t have water. But we have a natural water well, we use that water for baths, etc… we don’t know how long it will last. And we have bought mineral water so that people can drink, at three times the usual price.

In his message he said that he attended the funeral of 18 Christians who died when a bombing hit the Orthodox Church of Saint Porphyry.

The Israeli military denied that the church was its target and a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Lior Hayat, told the BBC Arabic service that what happened was “collateral damage” after Israel launched an “attack against infrastructure of Hamas that was very close to the church.

Could you explain to us what happened?

They died because of an Israeli bombing; one of the rooms where they slept collapsed. And as a consequence of that, many Christian friends died, children who participated or came to our parish activities or attended our school.

I went out for the first time since the beginning of all this to be able to accompany the Christian families at the funeral, to console them a little, although I know it is very difficult.

Where were the victims buried?

Each parish here has its cemetery.

You mentioned that at that funeral you saw images that will never be erased from your mind.

It is so, unfortunately it is so.

When you go to a funeral you feel the pain of a son saying goodbye to a father. Well, the pain of parents who say goodbye to their children is more painful. There are families whose all, absolutely all of their children have died. And they were children we knew. It is very painful.

Do you have food? Because only a few trucks with aid have been allowed to enter.

Thank God, the Latin Patriarchate is helping us and the people themselves.

The two churches, Latin and Orthodox, are collaborating very well, and that is a great blessing from God. We are buying food, buying mattresses. It’s more expensive, obviously, but thank God we have food.

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