The explosion in Beirut on August 4 was a catastrophe that left in its wake an apocalypse. More than 200 people were killed, 6,000 injured and 300,000 people made homeless. Houses, businesses and livelihoods have been ruined, and even now, 20 people are still missing.
Beirut is one of the most important cities in the world. It is where the East meets the West. It has witnessed many wars and the heart of every Lebanese bears those wounds. Beirut has been destroyed seven times in history, and it has always risen again. As it shall now.
The blast has left many houses partially or completely wrecked and without electricity. People are unable to prepare food or refrigerate fresh goods. In response, volunteers from all over Lebanon have flocked into the centre of Beirut, cooking food on a daily basis and providing hot dishes.
Many people cannot leave their homes because their windows and doors were smashed. Volunteers are trying to replace them as quickly as possible – particularly with winter approaching which in Lebanon is bitter and hard.
There is a real need for psychological support too, especially for the children. Many Lebanese have experienced severe trauma. People are exhausted. Since October 2019, Lebanon has faced one crisis after the other: the depreciation of the currency, Covid-19 and the lockdown, and last but not least, the explosion.
Recent events tempt us to feel despair and to lose hope, but the actions of our young people have been the candle in the darkness. They have gone out in teams, clearing the debris and delivering urgent aid – medicine, clothes, blankets and food are all in high demand.
Some reports say that the Christian district of Ashrafieh was the most affected by the blast. It certainly did serious damage to the institutions of the Church: many churches, hospitals, schools and dispensaries are in ruins.
To compound these issues, some have tried to exploit the crisis for their own gain. They are coming to Christians trying to buy their homes and land in an attempt to change the demography of Lebanon. We have respect for people of other religions, but we do not believe Christians should emigrate. This land is our identity, our dignity, the meaning of our life. It is a land of saints and of martyrs who watered this land with their blood. It is worth more than the money and the materialism of the world.
The Lebanese regime is different from some of the theocracies in the Middle East and there are people who want to change this fact. We will keep resisting this.
St John Paul II said that Lebanon is more than a country – it is a message of love, hope, and co-existence between the civilisations. During the many crises Lebanon has faced, the Church has eased the burden of all people by standing alongside them in their suffering.
Our mission is for everybody. We never ask, “What is your denomination? Who are you?” Instead we say, “God loves you, whoever you are.” Our youths have provided direct assistance to all. The convents and churches opened their doors to receive the displaced people. In spite of the disaster we show that God is here, He is love, and there is a reason to hope.
Despite the tragedies, we do hope. The body of a 25-year-old Maronite youth called Joe was discovered deep in the rubble holding a cross. He previously told his mother he would not leave Lebanon, he wanted to stay and water the cedar tree, our national emblem. How symbolic it is that he was found holding a cross, the symbol of hope that points the way to the Resurrection. We know death does not have the last word – the Resurrection does.
We are grateful to all our brothers and sisters who have helped us in our time of trial. We deeply appreciate the help of Aid to the Church in Need, CNEWA and all those standing with us in our need – ACN sent out 5,000 emergency food packages in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. Without the generosity of the benefactors of such organisations, we would not be able to make it through the crisis.
We are only finding out now how big the losses are. The scale of the disaster is still being revealed to us but we are confident that our friends from all over the world will offer us their hands in solidarity and fellowship.
The support we have received so far is God’s way of showing that the light of hope always shines forth. Our city will emerge from the wreckage stronger than ever, it will be reborn, it will rise again: that is what Beirut has always done.
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