In the aftermath of the explosion Beirut mourns its dead and weighs the damage caused. It is extensive, considering that the force of the blast devastated not only the port but all the neighbourhoods hit by the shockwave. A war scenario which has lacerated the Lebanese capital but also gashed the reality of a Country which has always been an extremely delicate mosaic of religions, ideologies and sensibilities and which is now forced to confront its deepest issues, first and foremost, survival. Because the Lebanon which until only a few decades ago was considered the jewel of the Middle East, today risks being buried beneath Beirut’s ruins once and for all.
In this delicate and precious ecosystem encased between the East and the Mediterranean, Christians are forced to endure a particular situation. Integration has always been one of Lebanon’s strong points, yet Christians of all confessions know what it means to have to survive, especially surrounded by people of different religions. And today, following the disaster, the watchword is “survival”, and maybe even an attempt towards a rebirth. A reality which bishop Matthias Charles Mrad knows only too well. The Patriarchal Vicar of Beirut’s Eparchy of Catholic Syrians alongside his expression of faith also rallies to fuel a spirit and strength aimed at finally bringing Lebanon back on its feet one day.
Eminence, what is currently the situation in Lebanon following the explosion?
The situation in Lebanon now appears calm. Definitely more calm than during the hours and days immediately following the explosion, however what the Country is going through is dramatic. Lebanon is experiencing a terrible political and economic crisis, and on top of this Lebanon has had to face an explosive combination: first the protests, then the Coronavirus, now the devastation of Beirut. The crisis is taking its toll on its people and the entire country needs to be rebuilt even beyond the rubble. The State has failed, politics is non-existent, and the population is left to itself, devastated: reconstruction must begin from the people.
In what way was the Christian community affected by this explosion?
Beirut’s Christians are among the most damaged by what happened at the port. All the surrounding areas were inhabited by Christians, in those neighbourhoods the majority of residents were Christians. The churches have been destroyed, in many cases homes were blown away by the shockwave. The damage is enormous and has also had an extremely alarming consequence: the wealthier Muslims are buying the wrecked houses as they are the only ones who still have the money to rebuild them. Those who have lost everything are forced to sell their homes and leave. The risk is that with time there will be no Christians left in these neighbourhoods. This is why the Church is asking the State to step in and prevent this from happening as it could provoke a diaspora: Christians are disappearing.
What role can Christians in Lebanon play today?
They can play an extremely important role. Christians want to live, just like the Lebanese people want to live. Christian schools and hospitals are fundamental for Lebanese society and are used by citizens of all religious creeds. However, today’s young people, including many Christians, while wishing for a better Lebanon believe the best solution is to leave. With many young people leave the Christian parties no longer represent the feelings of this segment of the population. These parties have connections with other States, often entertaining business ties with Countries at war with each other and dragging these conflicts into their communities.
In this respect the international community can be important…
Certainly, however it depends on the single Countries. The population is so fed up that they put themselves in the hands of other countries: Saudi Arabia, Iran, but also European countries. When Emmanuel Macron arrived in Beirut following the port accident, the people asked that the French return to Lebanon, take back the country and give it new life. This shows you just how people in Lebanon feel completely without hope.
If this is the picture, how can Lebanon bring itself to new life?
I twill definitely take time and a lot of patience. Lebanon’s decline and its destruction from the inside began a long time ago and one election or a brief period of time will not be enough to change things. It will take years, just like it took years to ravage the Country. Unfortunately, the politicians have failed, they do not have the future of Lebanon at heart and one year of protests has changed nothing. It will take time, but as I said it needs to start with mankind: that is where the reconstruction must start from.
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