After the summer break, the virtual meetings promoted by Pro Terra Sancta (PTS) are back. This time we started from Lebanon. The spotlight should not be turned off on the tragedy that has dramatically struck Beirut and made the economic and social crisis in which the whole country found itself even more bitter. Considered one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in history, the event of 4 August destroyed and damaged 2/3 of Beirut’s houses, leaving about 300,000 displaced persons, 60,000 of whom were children.
Giacomo Gentile, coordinator of the projects in Lebanon, describes the first steps taken by Pro Terra Sancta to help the friars and the local population. “The convent, church and local staff offices have suffered considerable damage. For the convent structure alone, hundreds of thousands of euros have been calculated for repairs”. We start from the convent because it is a reference structure for the whole neighbourhood. The service centre, already active to deal with the crisis before the explosion, was reopened in the convent garden. “900 requests have arrived – explains Giacomo – it means 900 families, that is about 3400-4000 thousand people asking for help“. Food, medicines and hygiene products have been donated to protect against the coronavirus, the spread of which is still looming over the city.
We have alredy started renovation works for 5 families. Another 20 are already on the waiting list, but the number is growing. “The desire and aspiration is to reach all the nine hundred families who have requested help by December,” Giacomo says.
The word then passes to Fra Firas Lufti. Behind the friar is the destroyed convent and two statues of St. Joseph and Mary that survived the outbreak. The Minister of the San Paolo Region (Syria, Lebanon and Jordan) first remembers the dead, about 200 people and 50 missing, about two months after the outbreak. “The scenario is dramatic – says Fra Firas – what the inhabitants of Beirut are experiencing is an enormous suffering, an accumulation of wounds that began on 17-18 October with a strong financial and economic crisis that blocked the banks and led to layoffs”. Recall that the economic data before the outbreak indicated the poverty line close to 50% of the population, the coronavirus did the rest. Strong is the concern: “I am touching with my hand very mistrustful souls, affected by depression“. The pandemic has brought even more misery. It is a concatenation of facts, explains Firas: “The sisters in charge of a Franciscan school have 6 months’ salary arrears. Students do not pay. But how can they pay school fees if their parents are not working? The pandemic has increased unemployment”.
“Together with the food package, we provided gel and sanitary material. Even these things have become very expensive, it is difficult to maintain hygiene in these poor conditions,” continues Firas, “while hundreds of people are knocking on our door for help: we cannot back out. Families fear the arrival of winter: “Without repairing roofs and doors and windows people cannot live in their homes”.
When asked by one of the supporters of Pro Terra Sancta about how Lebanese Christians live, Father Firas takes up a parable from Jesus: “The Christian is like that seed they throw into the land dying, but it bears much fruit”. And he continues with an example for these words: “A man from Beirut who I did not know asked me: – What can I do to help? I can contribute with my experience in the construction field and with an economic contribution. My house has also been touched, so I think of you because you are hurt like me”. The Franciscan friar was touched by this testimony: “A man who had already been hit hard by the damage to his house did not hesitate to help according to his possibilities. This is a seed of authentic and deeply Christian charity”.
And then many questions about “How can we help?”. “Codiv-19 took away the visits of so many international friends who came to give their direct support,” Firas answered. “We ask you to remember our suffering in your prayers. And whoever can collaborate even with a small financial contribution today can save an entire family“.