Emergency in Lebanon. We must act now

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A kilometer and a half from the center of the blast, the Franciscan friary in Beirut suffered great damage, but thanks to God all the friars are well. “Fra Angelico’s room overlooking the port was destroyed, he was in the church fortunately, if he had been there he would have suffered serious injuries, but instead he was saved. Father Maroun and Roger are also well, covered by the dust of the rubble, but they are fine”, so Father Firas Lufti, head of the friary and head of the St. Paul Region of the Custody of the Holy Land, tells us in a phone call.

At the time of the outbreak, which occurred in Beriut around 5 p.m. (Italian time), Father Firas was not in the country: “I am in Aleppo on a visit to the fraternities to ensure the health of the friars and communities. The contagions in Syria increased daily and 4 friars have contracted the virus”.

“Around 6:00 p.m. I received a phone call from Father Maourn who showed me with his camera all the damage that had occurred in the friary – continues Abuna Firas – At first we did not know what the reason was if it had been a missile or a car bomb, instead shortly afterwards we learned that the enormous damage suffered by our friary was caused by a serious explosion at the port of Beirut which caused terrible and catastrophic damage to the whole city”.

Impressive the images that arrived suddenly on television and social media, from the port you can see a column of smoke rising and suddenly a second blast that rises from the ground like an atomic fungus and invests the city. A terrifying apocalyptic scenario that destroyed and damaged much of the city. More than 100 dead while still digging under the rubble, more than 5000 injured by the blast. The Lebanese Red Cross confirms these numbers, but the data are still partial and the country’s hospitals overcrowded. The blast generated a tremor of magnitude 4.5. The shock wave was felt as far as Larnaka (Cyprus) and the damage caused by the energy released covers an area of 15 km from the detonation point. The causes of the explosion have yet to be investigated, but it appears that a deposit of explosive chemical material has exploded. Lebanese President Michel Aoun has confirmed this version, saying that more than 2700 tonnes were seized by the authorities six years ago and then left in the port without the necessary attention.

The Franciscan convent in the Gemmayzeh district is located very close to Pier 12 where the explosion started. “The convent was located in an old building, a cultural and artistic heritage of the city. It was the seat of the first theater in Beirut – explains Father Firas – The building is not inhabitable, the rooms were all affected and the friars moved to the convent in Harissa (another Franciscan convent further north). The doors are no longer there, the windows have exploded. In these times of chaos, Father Roger stayed to control the convent”.

With a background of sadness in the voice Abuna Firas looks at what to do: “Now it will be necessary to rebuild and secure the rooms. The explosion has caused not only many victims, but has put entire families on the street, many houses destroyed, 100 people dead, 4000 injured. The emergency is open in a tragic way”.

Lebanon, already hit by a very, very strong economic crisis, was struggling with the problem of Covid ” and now, with this serious and dangerous explosion we are even more on our knees”, Father Firas admits with concern ” I hope to be able to return soon. I will make myself present as soon as it is possible to move from Syria to Lebanon (the borders are closed because of the virus). I’m following the situation moment by moment in contact with my confreres”.

As soon as we heard the tragic news Pro Terra Sancta, which works in Lebanon supporting the refugees and Lebanese families, took action to help the Franciscans by activating a fundraiser in this phase of profound emergency. “We pray for all of you and we are close to you in this moment of great sorrow”, this is the message that reaches Father Firas’ ears from all the supporters of the Holy Land.