اعْطِنَاخُبْزَنَا كَفَافَ يَوْمِنَا. A’atina khubzana kafafa yawmina. “Give us today our daily bread.” My fluency in the Arabic liturgy I learned in the pews of Gaza’s Holy Family Catholic church in the late 1990s has mostly vanished. What remains is the Lord’s Prayer, whose words we sang, with my halting, broken Arabic bolstered and uplifted by the confident strains of the Palestinian Christians around me. Over the past five months, I have followed Gaza’s Holy Family parish on social media as they share photos from their daily prayers. These daily images have been icons for me of God’s presence in Gaza, these worship practices constituting a counter-politics to the reign of death and destruction, embodying a witness to a God who aches and groans with all in Gaza who live in the shadow of death.


The Arabic words for “Give us today our daily bread” repeat in my mind as I read reports about the famine artificially created by the Israeli military blockade on Gaza that prevents the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian assistance. The news from northern Gaza is especially dire. A family trying to salvage joy amidst devastation by sticking a candle into a solitary circle of flat bread to celebrate a child’s birthday. Mothers who cannot nurse their babies, their malnourished bodies unable to produce milk. Infants and the elderly who die of starvation. Families who resort to grinding up animal fodder and hay to fashion into makeshift loaves. The bitterly laughable humanitarian theater of the United States airdropping paltry food supplies while unreservedly funding Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, with its use of enforced starvation as a weapon of war. Praying “give us today our daily bread” becomes a desperate cry—a cry for a permanent ceasefire, for unobstructed humanitarian aid delivery, for Gazans to be able to enjoy once more the simple pleasure of zayt w-za’atar, the bread, olive oil, and the za’atar spice mixture shared and eaten with family and friends.


Back in December, Father Iusuf Asad, the vicar of the Holy Family parish, stood next to one of his parishioners, who beamed while holding up a communion wafer, proclaiming, “This is the first qurban produced in Gaza!” Two months into the punishing Israeli assault on Gaza following the October 7 attacks by Hamas militants inside Israel, the parish had exhausted its supply of wafers for the eucharist—those wafers had previously been brought into Gaza from the Latin (Roman Catholic) Patriarchate in Jerusalem. Providentially, several years ago a previous priest had brought in a small press that could be used to cut and stamp the wafers as a hoped-for income generation project for unemployed members of the parish, envisioning Gaza becoming a supplier to Catholic churches throughout the Holy Land of communion wafers. While the income generation project never came to pass, the presence of the small, hand-operated press spurred the parish into action in December, with nuns from the Little Sisters of Jesus leading the parish’s youth in an assembly line to produce the wafers.

The Arabic word for these communion wafers, qurban (قربان) is typically translated as “sacrifice.”  The root of the word qurban means to approach or draw close. Appearing three times in the Qur’an, qurban refers either to animal sacrifice or more generally to actions that draw one closer to God. In Christian Arabic, qurban denotes the host, the mystery of Christ’s broken body, the mystery of God drawing close to a shattered humanity, the mystery that within this devastation new life emerges. Even as members of the Holy Family parish this past December could see famine looming, they set aside some of their meager resources to produce the qurban, recognizing that they are not fed by bread alone, but are sustained as God draws close to them in the church’s practices. 

In early January, following the feast of the Baptism of Jesus, eight children between the ages of six and ten came forward at the Catholic church to receive their first communion, receiving and giving thanks for the embodied mystery of God’s incarnation within and transformation of broken humanity.


Currently 600 or so Palestinian Christians shelter in the walls of the Holy Family parish compound, with a few hundred more at the St. Porphyrios Orthodox church, a church with Crusader-era walls and foundation stones from the fifth century CE.  Nuns from the Rosary Sisters, the Missionaries of Charity, and the Little Sisters of Jesus, who come from around the world, join Fr. Iusuf in organizing multiple worship services a day. 

Israeli shelling has destroyed the homes of most sheltering in the church—not surprising, given that Israeli attacks have destroyed or damaged well over 60% of homes in the Gaza Strip. Sohail Abu Dawood, an eighteen-year-old at the Holy Family church, ventured out with his family and neighbors to see their family dwellings, and found “our homes destroyed and devastated.” Yet Sohail recounts that, in sheltering in the parish, he has discovered the church as “our first and last home.”  Life as a refugee within the church, Sohail explains, means that “we not only live differently: our way of thinking and relating to others has also changed. Our life unfolds like that of a single family—about 600 people!—who lives together in the parish, and in these difficult conditions we must be united and ready to help each other, as Jesus helped and served his disciples. . . . But we are in the hands of God. The lasting home that God has left us is the Church, where we learn the way to Heaven.”1

During this war, routine practices have taken on a deeper meaning for Gaza’s Christians. For many years, the priests and leaders of the Catholic and Orthodox communities in Gaza have paid each other ecumenical visits for their respective Christmas celebrations on December 25 and January 7. The two churches are, in normal times, only a ten-minute walk apart, both located in the heart of Gaza City’s old center. Yet that distance is now immense, as anyone venturing out from the relative safety of the church compounds now enters a war zone. Yet the desire to affirm and celebrate unity in Christ overcame fear these past months, as the delegations walked through Gaza City’s war zone to give ecumenical greetings to their siblings in Christ.

The church’s simple wartime acts of giving and receiving, of welcoming and honoring, are binding Gaza’s Christians into a new peoplehood. These acts are parables of God’s reign breaking into the present. These parables of God’s reign, with its economy of sharing and mutual care, have sprung up across the Gaza Strip these past months. A family in northern Gaza organizes a makeshift soup kitchen for its neighbors. A grandmother displaced from Gaza City to the Tel el-Sultan camp next to Rafah spends her days unraveling blankets and then knitting them into hats, dresses, scarves, and socks for the children in the tents around her. Educators from the Culture and Free Thought Association, themselves displaced from Khan Younis to the camps around Rafah, mobilize to lead children in literacy and art activities. Volunteers with the charitable organization al-Najd collect and distribute hygiene and other need supplies to people in Rafah’s camps. Historians have analyzed how new forms of Palestinian identity emerged in the wake of the nakba, or catastrophe, of 1948, in which two-thirds of Palestinians became refugees, with people from varying geographies, social strata, and family and clan backgrounds now sharing a common fate of exile. Amidst today’s nakba in Gaza, new forms of solidarity are emerging.


Christians in Gaza, like all Gazans, live with the specter of death hanging over them. In a letter to his four-year-old son, Bader Maher Tarazi, a Palestinian Christian from Gaza City, laments that that he did not intend for his son 

to know that there is no food to buy in the markets, nor to find the container of Nutella that you likeNor to see death and fear and know the meaning of displacement at nightNor should you become a military expert and distinguish between the sounds of planes, bombs, and cannon.2

Since October, Israeli military forces have killed 21 Christians in Gaza, around 2% of Gaza’s pre-war Christian population (roughly equivalent to the percentage of all Gazans killed by the Israeli military). Still more, like Hani Abu Daoud, died because they could not access needed medical treatment. Several years ago, Hani, a middle-aged Palestinian Christian living in Gaza City, had an accident that meant he needed ongoing dialysis as he waited for a potential kidney transplant. When hospitals in northern Gaza stopped functioning because of Israeli attacks, Hani made the difficult decision to leave his wife and their young children travel to the southern Gaza Strip to receive treatment at a hospital still providing dialysis. There he received irregular treatment—but then eventually those hospitals could no longer offer the care he needed. Hani then sought to return to Gaza, but he, along with other Gazans from the north driven by Israel to the south, was prevented by the Israeli military from returning to his family who are sheltering at the Orthodox church. Hani died in early February in Khan Younis due to complications from his illness, unable to continue treatment due to the Israeli military’s systematic attacks on Gaza’s hospitals. He died alone, away from his wife and their children, buried without a Christian funeral.

As the church in Gaza entered Lent this year, the declaration on Ash Wednesday that we are dust, and will return to dust was not simply a reminder of our common human mortality but a sobering reminder of all that has been lost these past months, including precious people like Hani.

The confession that we are dust and return to dust has an analogue in the Islamic istirja’, the conviction that إِنَّا لِلَّٰهِ وَإِنَّا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعُون (ʾinnā li-llāhi wa-ʾinnā ʾilayhi rājiʿūn), that we belong to God, and to God we return. Wartime transforms this phrase from a rote incantation to into a declaration of anguished hope in the face of the apparent dominion of death-dealing violence that the dead are in God’s hands.

As I write these words on March 4, I see a post from a member of Gaza’s Catholic church with photos from the day’s liturgy, accompanied by the petition, “Pray on our behalf for the end of the war on Gaza and for peace in the land of peace.” The Catholic priest when I lived in Gaza in the late 1990s described himself as the priest for everyone in Gaza—not only for the Christian community, but also for Gaza’s majority Muslim population and for the Israeli soldiers and settlers in Gaza. As the church in Gaza asks for payers “on our behalf,” it asks the church universal to join in praying for peace for all in the land—for the tens of thousands killed, for the many thousands more still buried under rubble, for Israeli and Palestinian captives and their families. 

On March 1, Fr. Iusuf posted an anguished prayer to God: “O master, we have run out of energy and our souls have died. Isn’t it time for a miracle?” He named an anguish throbbing in my heart. “Lord, listen to your children praying,” more than one hundred of us sang in mid-December in front of our congressional representative’s office in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a protest organized by the new initiative Mennonite Action. The prayer for me was a desperate plea, a plea for a miracle of changed hearts, a plea that my government would stop funding a catastrophic military campaign that has left my friends homeless and killed their loved ones, a plea that the Israeli regime of violence and systemic inequality and dispossession that rules the land might somehow be transformed to into a reality of equality, freedom, and justice for the seven million Israelis and seven million Palestinians like in the land. Even if a ceasefire is proclaimed tomorrow (and may that, God willing, be the case by the time this reflection appears!), the scope of the devastation across Gaza means that anguished prayer will be heartbreakingly relevant for years to come.

The church’s worship does not shy away from such anguish. The church does not—cannot—ignore the shattering devastation all around it. Yet in its practices, the church proclaims and embodies a desperate hope (theologically speaking, is there any other kind of hope?) that God has defeated the powers of sin and death and that God’s coming reign breaks into Gaza’s devastation. In late January, the Amash family at the Holy Family Catholic church brought forward their son, Jude, for baptism. In the face of death, the churches in Gaza celebrate new life.

  1. Sohail Abu Dawood, “Case distrutte, ci resta solo la parrochia,” L’OsservatoreRomane (December 12, 2023). Available at https://www.osservatoreromano.va/it/news/2023-12/quo-284/case-distrutte-ci-resta-solo-la-parrocchia.html
  2. Bader Maher Tarazi, “Perdonami figliomio,” L’Osservatore Romano (February 29, 2024). Available at https://www.osservatoreromano.va/it/news/2024-03/quo-050/lettera-da-gaza.html.

Alain Epp Weaver worked with Mennonite Central Committee in Palestine for eleven years (1992-1996 and 1999-2006), including two years as program coordinator in the Gaza Strip and later as MCC's director for program in Palestine-Israel, Jordan, and Iraq. He is the author of Mapping Exile and Return: Palestinian Dispossession and a Political Theology for a Shared Future (Fortress, 2014) and Inhabiting the Land: Thinking Theologically about the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict (Cascade, 2018).