The port in Beirut after the explosion on August 4 (Photo: Unsplash/Rashid Khreiss)

Lebanon: “It is not enough to rebuild houses”

A month after the explosion at the port in Beirut, the future of the country, which was already on its knees before the tragedy, remains uncertain. The Church, AVSI and others are helping the Lebanese people to start over. And to not abandon their land.
Maria Acqua Simi

These are important days for Lebanon: Moustapha Adib, Lebanese Ambassador to Germany, has been charged with forming a new Government of National Unity. The future of the country has never been so uncertain and the Executive has a desperate need for safe leadership. In fact, the deflagration on August 4 had not only economic but also social repercussions. The people, who for weeks had been taking to the streets asking for a generational change of the old, corrupt and stale ruling class, now seem more tired than ever. The explosion at the port in Beirut killed almost two hundred people and destroyed thousands of homes, stores, infrastructure. Everything has to be rebuilt in this nation that was already on its knees before the incident.

Beirut (Photo: Avsi)

The families who need the most help are those who saw their homes crumble in a matter of seconds, their cars catch fire, their store windows shattered into a thousand pieces. They have received the attention of many international NGOs, including AVSI, which has been working in the country for many decades. The #LoveBeirut campaign aims to help all those who will not receive funding from banks to rebuild their homes and, above all, to concretely support those who, even before the accident, were struggling to make ends meet. Moreover, for some time now, 50% of the population has been living below the poverty line and only one member of each family normally works (perhaps occasionally and irregularly).

Thus the AVSI teams visited the districts of the capital most affected by the explosion and identified the first beneficiaries of emergency aid: elderly people, widowed women and needy families whose doors and windows were shattered by the shock wave. More than one hundred houses and businesses have to start over. But not only walls need to be rebuilt. The people’s trust is also being put to the test. Andreina, wife of Roni and mother of two young boys, understands this well: "I have lived through the war, but now it is worse. Because we do not know when this uncertainty will end and as a mother I only wish for my children to have a peaceful future. In these days, I have had the opportunity to reread some of Fr. Carrón's speeches and I really understood, perhaps for the first time, what it means to live reality intensely. Because living reality when it is not beautiful or comfortable is not easy, on the contrary, you might want to escape. But we have kept faith, and so to remain here in Lebanon, despite the adverse circumstances, is an act of trust in the Lord who always wants good for His children."

Read also - Carrón at the Meeting: "Where does hope originate?

Fr. Firas Lufti, Franciscan friar with the Custody of the Holy Land, echoed her: "I believe that we can start afresh, particularly from the young. They are fighting more than anyone else for the good of the country. Beirut was a pile of rubble, but within a few days they cleaned up the streets, helped to clear out the damaged houses and collected the broken glass. Is this not a sign of love and trust? I have also had dialogues with families who are very much affected by all this, parents who are frightened for the future of their children... Many are thinking of leaving Lebanon. But they all seek the closeness of the Church and we try to be present with joy. It is always painful for us to see people leaving, but we never take the place of their decision. We do not give anyone the right recipe, but we propose a Presence. If the Lord is faithful, He will always be faithful. Here or elsewhere. In good circumstances but also in less good ones.”

He also recounted that the economic crisis, the pandemic crisis and the "coup de grace" of the explosion have transformed Beirut from a city of light to a city of darkness: "Our convent is half destroyed, the roof has been torn off and we know that when the rain come there will be trouble because everything will flood. I get up in the morning in my room without doors or windows, I ring the church bell to call people to come and pray. And the sound of the bells is meant to be a sign of hope, a sign of a Church present in the destruction, close to the people’s suffering. It is a call for everyone to have faith in the Lord of life who leaves no one behind and who is a source of hope, joy and consolation. With this certainty we are helping those most affected, Christians and Muslims, in anyway we can so that they can return to their homes before their death.”

There is great despair in the streets. The Christian community, among other things, is one of the most affected - the Christian neighborhoods of Beirut are close to the historic center and the port - but Fr. Firas is certain that this time too it will come out stronger: "Here in the Middle East, we have always lived a troubled history, marked by wars and destruction, but we Christians are like a little plant wanted by the Lord in these lands too. And we are certain, because God has promised it, that the gates of hell will not prevail. Our presence here serves as a reminder of that.”