Churches call for prayers, support as depth of Beirut crisis emerges

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Churches call for prayers, support as depth of Beirut crisis emerges
Beirut port's grain silos and surrounding area sustained massive damage from the explosion August 4. Photo: Alex Gakos/Shutterstock

Anglicans and other Christian organizations are sending prayers and financial support to Lebanon, a country with a significant Christian population, after a massive explosion erupted Aug. 4 in the city of Beirut—another blow to a nation already veering toward a humanitarian crisis.

On Aug. 6, a short statement and photos were posted to the Anglican Church of Canada’s website, under the heading: “Pray for the people of Lebanon.”

“Please pray for the people of Lebanon, remember our brothers and sisters in Christ in the diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East, as they recover from the devastating explosion,” wrote Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.

The photos accompanying the statement show the interior of All Saints’ Anglican Church in Beirut. Curtains, blown away from the windows, drape over stacks of toppled chairs; panes of glass and shards of window frames are scattered across the floor; the ground is littered with fragments of broken glass.

The church is among the many buildings that have been damaged in some way by the immense Aug. 4 blast. The explosion is believed to have been the detonation of ammonium nitrate which had been stored at Beirut’s port—more than 2,700 tons of it, according to the New York Times. As of Aug. 10, more than 7,000 had been reported injured and at least 220 dead from the explosion.

In response, religious aid organizations—including Anglican groups—have leapt to raise funds and contact partner organizations in Lebanon and the surrounding area.

The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) is accepting donations to provide assistance to victims of the explosion.

“As first responders dig through the rubble and as fires continue to burn, we have reached out to our partner in the region, the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC),” said PWRDF in a statement. “MECC has responded with thanks for the expression of solidarity and the prayers, and shared that what has happened in Beirut cannot be expressed in words. Many are still missing and many will die due to critical injuries sustained in the blast. Tens of thousands have lost their properties, and hospitals, schools, universities and clinics have been badly damaged. It is even more trauma for people to absorb in the midst of many economic and political challenges, in addition to the impact of COVID-19.”

The Anglican church in Beirut sustained damage from the blast. Photo: Anglican.ca

As of August 8, PWRDF announced, donations made through the fund will be matched dollar for dollar by the Canadian government.

PWRDF also pledged $25,000 to a response from ACT Alliance, of which PWRDF is a member. PWRDF staff have been in contact with ACT Alliance staff. “They in turn are in touch with their implementing members on the ground in Lebanon to determine how best to respond. Lebanon is the country hosting the largest number of refugees per capita, and is part of the ACT Alliance regional appeal covering Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. PWRDF is a regular contributor to these appeals.”

In a statement Aug. 4, Archbishop Joseph, metropolitan of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian archdiocese of North America, made an appeal to donations to the Archdiocese of Beirut. In this statement, the archbishop wrote that the metropolitan and clergy of the Archdiocese of Beirut had been unharmed. “The same, however, cannot be said for the archdiocese headquarters, the churches and our St. George Hospital. Many of our churches and institutions in Beirut suffered devastating damage as well as the homes of many of the clergy and faithful.”

In Vatican city, Pope Francis has called for prayers for Lebanon, “so that with the effort of everyone in society—political and religious—it may face this tragic and painful moment and, with the help of the international community, overcome the serious crisis it is experiencing.”

Catholic agency CNEWA/Pontifical Mission is also working on the ground to distribute food and medicines to those affected, Jesuit magazine America reports.

The patriarch of the Maronite church in Lebanon, Cardinal Bechara Rai, has called for a “United Nations-controlled fund” to be set up to direct aid in the region.

Lebanon, which has the highest proportion of Christians in the Middle East, is roughly 40% Christian, according to a 2012 report for the U.S. Department of State. The Maronite Church, which is in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest denomination in the country.

The explosion is the latest disaster for a country already burdened by overlapping crises. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and record-breaking heatwaves had already compounded the effects of intense economic hardship.

The value of Lebanon’s currency began plunging rapidly last October. The cost of goods has risen in the country, and 45% of the population was living below the poverty line, with 30% unemployed, according to Business Insider. Even the army, CBC reported, has been hit by inflation, forced to serve only vegetarian meals to soldiers because it could no longer afford meat.

A recent food security report by the UN Food Program said that 50% of the country’s citizens (as well as 63% of Palestinians and 75% of Syrians in the country) were worried about their ability to get enough food.

These issues will undoubtedly be intensified by the results of the explosion, which left nearly 300,000 people homeless and destroyed the country’s largest grain silo, leaving the country with less than a month of grain reserves.

In the days following the explosion, protests have broken out throughout the city with what the Washington Post called an “outpouring of anger” over the political establishment and unanswered questions about what caused the blast—and why the ammonium nitrate was stored at the port at all. On Aug. 10, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced the resignation of his government, with the entire cabinet stepping down. The country’s president will be required to consult with parliamentary blocs to choose the next prime minister.

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Joelle Kidd
Joelle Kidd joined the Anglican Journal in 2017 as staff writer. She has worked as an editor and writer for the Winnipeg-based Fanfare Magazine Group and as freelance copy editor for Naida Communications.

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