“I met Pope Francis on November 22, 2023, in a private audience. I came away from that meeting encouraged by his attention and his paternal attitude. Faced by the tragedy of these children, innocent victims of the conflict that is once again tearing apart the Holy Land, I immediately took action with the hospitals and with the Italian government.”
As food, water, and other basic needs get more and more difficult to find, the Custody of the Holy Land has started to rescue children trapped in the conflict and transport them abroad for safety and hospital care.
Appealing for a bilateral solution, Fr. Ibrahim Faltas, vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land, steers the custodian priory to extricating wounded, sick, and starving children from the rubble of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.
On January 29, some 12 people, including 11 children and an adult, from the war-torn Palestinian city landed in Ciampino, a joint civilian, commercial, and military airport in Rome.
The survivors fled the strip to Egypt by way of Rafah, a city in southern Gaza. After reaching Egypt, they flew to Rome.
The humanitarian mission came about after the priest began negotiating with the Palestinian government, Italy, Israel, and Egypt.
The Vulcano, a hospital ship of the Italian navy, would also transport children rescued from Gaza to Italy in the coming days.
At the moment, the border crossing in Rafah is the only point of exit from the Gaza Strip.
The Franciscan priest has repeatedly decried the war since it broke out in October last year.
His meeting with Pope Francis last year gave him the charge to rescue children trapped in the conflict in Gaza.
“I met Pope Francis on November 22, 2023, in a private audience," Faltas said in a post on Custodia Terrae Santae. "I came away from that meeting encouraged by his attention and his paternal attitude. Faced by the tragedy of these innocent victims of the conflict that is once again tearing apart the Holy Land, I immediately took action with the hospitals and with the Italian government, and straightaway received truly commendable agreement and participation from everyone.”
“It is my duty to emphasize the help and the solidarity shown by the Italian people to the Holy Land. The Italians are offering not only words but concrete actions by people who are giving help from the bottom of their hearts, and they do so with competence and care.”
Faltas, a native of Egypt, has expressed gratitude to Italy for its collaboration.
“It is my duty to emphasize the help and the solidarity shown by the Italian people to the Holy Land," he said. " The Italians are offering not only words but concrete actions by people who are giving help from the bottom of their hearts, and they do so with competence and care.”
He told the Vatican News that the conflict claimed the lives of about 30,000 people, left 60,000 wounded, and orphaned 40,000 children.
The health ministry in the strip reported that airstrikes and ground operations in the Israel-Hamas conflict have killed about 10,000 children in Gaza after roughly 100 days.
As of February 3, the number of children in Gaza displaced from home and disconnected from family was 17,000, according to a United Nations estimate.
The war broke out when Hamas-led Palestinian militant groups launched an airstrike on Israel. At the same time, about 3,000 militants forced their way into the Gaza-Israel barrier.
Hamas officials claim that the Israeli occupation, maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip, violence against the Palestinians, restrictions on movement, and imprisonment of hundreds of Palestinians prompted the attack.
Israel took over the Gaza Strip in 1967. In 2005, Israel pulled out its armed forces from Gaza. Despite the absence of Israeli armed forces in the strip, human rights advocates view Israel as indirectly occupying Gaza since it imposes a maritime blockade, controls its borders and supplies the majority of electricity supply.
Gaza, smaller than the West Bank, is located on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Israel borders Gaza on the east and north, while Egypt borders it on the southwest. Israel has occupied the West Bank, another Palestinian territory, since 1967.
The Custody of the Holy Land is keen on rescuing more children in Gaza.
The children rescued from Gaza would receive hospital care at the Vatican-run Bambino Gesu and other pediatric hospitals in Italy.
The Custody of the Holy Land is a custodian priory of the Order of Friars Minor in Jerusalem. St. Francis of Assisi founded it in 1217, eight years after he established the Franciscan Order.