Church Leaders in Lebanon Appeal for Aid in Wake of Explosion
“Yesterday, in one second, more damage to the Christian quarter of Beirut was done than throughout the long years of the civil war.”
The Maronite Catholic Church in Lebanon, along with Catholic aid agencies around the world, are appealing for aid after Tuesday’s deadly explosion in the port of Beirut that killed 135 people and injured more than 4,000 others.
“Beirut is a devastated city,” said Maronite Catholic Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai in an Aug. 5 “Appeal to the Countries of the World.”
Cardinal Rai said the Lebanese capital, which he called “the fiancée of the East and the beacon of the West,” had been “wounded” and resembled “a war scene” with “destruction and desolation in all its streets, its districts and its houses.”
President Michel Aoun of Lebanon said today the blast was caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely in a waterfront warehouse. Port officials are being placed under house arrest pending an investigation.
“It is a terrible and disastrous situation and today we live in a total confusion,” said Rita Rhayem, director of Caritas Lebanon, which has been bringing relief to those in need on the ground.
“The situation is critical and this is the first time that we have experienced a situation of such great magnitude. It is apocalyptic, but we don't stop, and we will carry on in order to help all those in difficulty,” she said.
The Christian zone in the city was “completely devastated,” said Aid to the Church in Need’s Lebanon expert Father Samer Nassif, adding that at least 10 churches were destroyed, 300,000 people made homeless and many others were suffering, with livelihoods “totally destroyed” by the blast.
“Yesterday, in one second, more damage to the Christian quarter of Beirut was done than throughout the long years of the civil war,” Father Nassif said. “We have to build it again from the ground up.”
The explosion “felt like an atomic bomb,” said ACN’s project partner, Carmelite Father Raymond Abdo, “with red smoke everywhere and huge damage.” He reported that a sick and elderly religious sister died from her injuries in the blast, which hit her convent’s dining hall. Other sisters were in their rooms and so escaped serious injury or death, Father Abdo said.
Rhayem said the health situation was “likely to worsen quickly, as the toxic gases can cause additional health problems.” She said Caritas Lebanon is preparing for this but lacks appropriated health centers for such a situation and is hampered by lack of electricity.
The hospitals are “incredibly crowded,” Rhayem noted, and “lack everything, including food to support the affected population.”
Caritas Lebanon’s headquarters were also badly damaged but providentially the office had closed before the blast and no staff were injured.
Father Michel Abboud, president of Caritas Lebanon, said the explosion brought the country to a halt. “We are living a nightmare,” he said, adding the country was “totally overwhelmed by the scale of the events.”
Before the blast Lebanon was already struggling to deal with COVID-19 and was in the midst of a severe economic crisis after its currency collapsed last month, destroying businesses and leaving families destitute. It has also had to cope with violent protests as a result of economic troubles in recent months, made worse by economic sanctions imposed on Syria.
Noting how all these factors have severely weakened the country, Caritas Internationalis secretary general Aloysius John called on the international community to “intervene urgently and unconditionally to help the population.”
“It is vital that the international community acts decisively to alleviate the suffering of poor Lebanese, immediately removing economic sanctions,” John added.
Aid to the Church in Need, which is appealing for prayer for the victims and their families, has issued a $300,000 emergency food package to Beirut.
The French Catholic charity SOS Chrétiens d’Orient is also involved in the emergency operations, providing food and hygiene donations, support for the homeless and the families of the injured.
It will also be providing financial support to the badly-hit hospital of La Quarantaine, located in the port area where the blast took place, in order to help “restore and re-equip” the facility “as a matter of urgency.”
At his weekly general audience today, Pope Francis called on the faithful to “pray for the victims, for their families.”
“Let us pray for Lebanon so that, through the dedication of all its social, political and religious elements,” the Pope said, “it might face this extremely tragic and painful moment and, with the help of the international community, overcome the grave crisis they are experiencing.”