The response of the Church and individual Catholics to the devastating explosion in the Port of Beirut, Lebanon, one month ago has been impressive and heartwarming.
The prayers, the expressions of solidarity and the material support from around the world will hopefully go a long way toward reassuring the people of that beleaguered Middle Eastern country that they are not alone as they face this latest catastrophe.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state dispatched to Beirut by Pope Francis, brought that assurance to the suffering Lebanese people on his visit Sept. 3-4.
“You are not alone. The whole world supports you,” said the cardinal, whose visit was timed to coincide with the pope’s call to Catholics to observe Sept. 4 as a “universal day of prayer and fasting for Lebanon.”
Speaking at an interfaith welcoming ceremony Sept. 3 at the Maronite Catholic Cathedral of St. George, Cardinal Parolin said response to the pope’s appeal was immediate, coming from many different countries and from all the continents.
Lebanon’s population, already exhausted by a collapsing economy that has plunged even the middle class into poverty, has been traumatized by the Aug. 4 explosion of 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer stored for years in a port warehouse. At least 190 people died, more than 6,500 were injured and more than 300,000 people remain homeless.
The disaster struck a country whose modern history includes long periods of civil unrest, including a civil war, an Israeli occupation, financial collapse, political instability and, now, the Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite that, Lebanon has also been a regional banking and communications center and is the most religiously diverse country in the Middle East. The latest estimates have Muslims making up just over 50 percent of the population, Maronite Catholics and other Christians are about 40 percent, the remainder comprises other religions and sects.
In New York, with its sizable Lebanese-American population, more than 35 clerics representing Lebanon’s Catholic, Orthodox and Islamic faith traditions— including Cardinal Dolan and Maronite Bishop Gregory J. Mansour—met at Brooklyn’s Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral Aug. 25 to pray for victims of the explosion and an end to the cycle of violence and instability in Lebanon.
In his homily, Archbishop Joseph Zahlawi, Metropolitan of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, appealed to his countrymen to reject despair and lashing out at those with whom they disagree as they work to rebuild their nation. “We must live our faith and show those around us the light of Christ through our actions,” he said. “This is what will save Lebanon.”
The Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), headquartered in the Catholic Center building in Manhattan, has been in close contact with its employees and partner agencies in Beirut since the blast. The charitable agencies have been helping with repairs to stabilize and secure properties and assisting in distributing food—efforts aimed at bringing the traumatized people a glimpse of hope.
Cardinal Dolan, during the service in Brooklyn, summed it up nicely: “Lebanon is an icon for everything that our good God intends for His Church. So when Lebanon suffers, the human project suffers.”
So it does.