Cardinal Vincent Nichols in Gaza. (AP/ Khalil Hamra) (AP/ Khalil Hamra)
Cardinal Vincent Nichols

In a brave journey into Muslim-controlled territory, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales visited the Gaza Strip on Sunday, hoping to give a spiritual lift to the territory’s tiny Christian minority.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols praised Gaza’s Christians, whose numbers have dwindled during a decade of Hamas rule.

“There have always been Christians here. Their numbers are small, but I believe their faith is strong,” he said.

Before Hamas 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.

Community members complain that they do not feel comfortable under Hamas’ Islamic 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 terror group or members of other Islamic factions.

Hamas denies it mistreats Christians.

Cardinal Nichols led Mass at the Holy Family Church on Sunday, calling on Mary to “pray for the protection” of the Christian community in Gaza.

He first visited Gaza in 2014 the end of Operation Protective Edge.

Speaking of Gaza’ rehabilitation after the counter-terror campaign, the cardinal said that while he saw “some signs of rebuilding, there is an awful lot of damage that is still untouched.”

“The whole world is worried about the stability of the Middle East,” where both Christians and Muslims “are persecuted and murdered by the extremists,” he said.

While the Christian population is shrinking under Palestinian rule, it is steadily growing in Israel, the only country in the Middle East that safeguards the Christians and enables them to practice their faith freely and safely.

By: AP and United with Israel Staff