COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
A local church group escaped Israel 40 hours before Hamas' initial attack over this past weekend.
The Rev. Dan Metz, of St. Thomas More Parish and Newman Center Church in Columbia, and a group of 61 others are back in Missouri safely after a pilgrimage.
“I was grateful, very, very grateful that everyone in my group was able to get out safely, you know, and without problems,” Merz said.
Merz was also in Israel to celebrate his 25th anniversary of pastorship. He described Jerusalem as safe and discussed the defensive precautions to keep people safe. However, he said there were concerns that tension could spark during the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles.
“I was more concerned about that kind of tension than about, you know, outbreak of war with Hamas and the state of Israel. So that was a surprise,” he said.
Following the trip back, Merz heard the news about the declaration of war that Saturday morning. He said they are grateful to be home, but feel for the people that they’ve come to know.
“…We know people over there now, you know. Our bus driver, our tour guides and the owner of the company we worked with, they all live in Bethlehem," he said. "They’re Palestinian Christians. And they’re kind of caught in the middle there.”
According to the Associated Press, the combined death toll is more than 2.200, which included a woman from Boone County. Fighting began over the weekend after Hamas militants launched an attack on Israel and the country declared war. The Associated Press reported 27 of the people killed in the region were Americans, with several more unaccounted.
According to previous reporting, a group from a Moberly church have been stuck in Israel since the violence erupted.
The Associated Press reported on Thursday that evacuation flights for American citizens will begin Friday.