The one-year anniversary of the Beirut port blast, 4 August, was marked by multiple opportunities for prayer and shows of solidarity throughout the day.
Monsignor Peter Vaccari, CNEWA president, and a CNEWA delegation were in Lebanon as part of a 10-day pastoral visit of various organizations affected by the August 2020 disaster. However, on the morning of 4 August, all focus turned to commemorating those who lost their lives in the blast and praying for the healing of Lebanon.
Monsignor Vaccari concelebrated Mass early that morning in commemoration of the anniversary in the chapel at the Rosary Sisters Hospital in Beirut. The hospital suffered major damage in the blasts and was restored by CNEWA with funds from the German Catholic bishops’ development organization, Misereor, and the Archbishopric of Cologne. Bishop Cesar Essayan, the Latin-rite bishop of Beirut, was the main celebrant. A 60-year-old nurse, named Jacqueline, who died in the blasts was commemorated during the Mass. The hospital renovation was also inaugurated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
After the Mass, Msgr. Vaccari issued a personal email message to CNEWA staff about his experience in Lebanon so far.
“We are here to show solidarity in prayer and through our presence for our office staff here, their families, and the people of Beirut and Lebanon,” said Monsignor Vaccari in an email to CNEWA staff from Beirut. “The situation here is very serious.”
The CNEWA president spoke of the Lebanese people who, over the past two years, “have suffered greatly on multiple levels.”
“Many homes and businesses were destroyed,” he said of the blasts’ impact. “The socio-political, economic, educational crises has also impacted the life of every Lebanese who live in this city. And, there has been and continues to be the impact of COVID-19.”
He invited all CNEWA staff to pause from their work for one minute at 11:07 a.m. ET, which corresponded to 6:07 p.m. in Beirut, the exact time the explosions occurred a year ago that day.
“In that one-minute reflection, please link your work with the restoration of the lives of the Lebanese people. Your sacrifice and dedicated work helps the process of restoration and healing,” he said.
Monsignor Vaccari and the CNEWA delegation also participated in the large, open-air, commemorative Mass that evening, celebrated at the Beirut port, adjacent to the site of the explosion. It began at 6:07 p.m. Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, the Maronite patriarch, was the main celebrant.
Many Mass participants held large portraits of their loved ones who died as a result of the blasts. The names of the more than 200 victims were announced solemnly over the loudspeaker before the start of the liturgy. People of all faiths attended. Cardinal Rai also preached the homily.
While hundreds of people prayed at Mass and commemorated the dead, crowds gathered nearby to protest the ongoing political and economic strife in the country, for which there still seems to be no imminent solution.