On Monday, 31 May, Pope Francis announced he had invited Lebanon’s Christian leaders, Catholic and non-Catholic, to meet with him on 1 July in the Vatican to pray, reflect and discuss the state of the small Middle Eastern country, which is still reeling from the 4 August port blast.
The explosion killed hundreds of people, displaced more than 300,000 and injured more than 6,000. It devastated the Christian heart of the city, damaging hospitals, schools, convents and apartments in the Ashrafiyeh and Mar Mikael neighborhoods especially.
The largest recorded non-nuclear explosion ever, the blast blew a hole in the country’s fragile and ineffective government, which has since resigned being unable to cope with an evaporating economy and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Lebanon is more than a country,” said Pope Francis, echoing the words of St. John Paul II.
Lebanon is considered the last foothold of the Christian community in the Middle East. About a third of the population identifies as Christian and the country’s president must be a Maronite Catholic.
“Lebanon is a message of liberty, an example of pluralism for the Middle East and the rest of the world. We cannot allow this patrimony to be lost,” he said. “Lebanon cannot be abandoned in its solitude.”
Soon after the blast, the Holy See’s Congregation for Eastern Churches charged CNEWA and the Paris-based l’Oeuvre d’Orient with coordinating worldwide Catholic aid to the country.
While CNEWA’s partner focused on Lebanon’s Catholic schools, CNEWA has concentrated its efforts on rehabilitating the two damaged Catholic hospitals, the Geitawi and Rosary Sisters’ facilities, as well as two dispensaries.
CNEWA has also been responsible for repairing damaged religious houses served by sisters working in 13 educational and social service centers in Beirut; restoring more than 100 apartments and some two dozen shops owned by vulnerable or at-risk families; providing counseling services for 1,100 people impacted by the blast; and emergency food packages for more than 15,200 families.
Thousands of generous benefactors throughout North America and donor agencies in Europe have responded to CNEWA’s appeals, providing more than $4.8 million in funds to date.
“This perfect storm of multiple disasters hitting Lebanon now has devastated the country’s middle class, to which most Christians in the country belong,” said Michel Constantin, CNEWA-Pontifical Mission’s regional director for Lebanon.
“Having lost most of their savings, their livelihoods and their purchasing power, and now joining the ranks of the poor, the danger of their flight from their homeland is real,” he said.
He added that the prayers, messages of support and the thousands of generous responses to CNEWA’s appeals have helped bolster the community.
“We have not yet lost hope,” he said.
Michael La Civita is the director of communications for CNEWA.