ACN is striving to bring hope to Lebanon

CHRISTIANS IN LEBANON are facing a profound crisis, and in response Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has approved three emergency aid projects for the most vulnerable families and  refugees in the region of Zahle and the Bekaa Valley.

Over the course of many years the Church in Lebanon has played a vital role in responding to the social, economic and political needs of its people. “Today all our people are struggling to obtain their daily bread. We will continue to do everything in our power to stand by them during these difficult times,” says Greek Melkite Archbishop Issam John Darwish of Zahle, the principal city in the Bekaa governorate in Lebanon.

Archbishop Darwish
Archbishop Darwish

Two of the projects are designed to supply urgent basic necessities for the neediest families, including food and basic hygiene articles. Archbishop Darwish has asked ACN to supply funding for 2,000 basic food parcels to alleviate the suffering of some 2,000 families in Zahle and the Bekaa Valley. The present situation is so bad, owing to the coronavirus crisis, that many of these families cannot even meet their most basic needs. A second project will help a further 100 families in the parishes of the Maronite Diocese of Baalbek, in the north of the Bekaa Valley. Thanks to this aid, the families, who are living below the poverty line, will at least have some security for the next three months.

In addition to these two projects, and given the growing number of coronavirus infections and the lack of testing capacity in the country, ACN is supporting the establishment of a COVID-19 test center in the Tel Chiha hospital in Zahle,  a hospital established by the Archdiocese of Zahle, an indispensable institution in the fight to alleviate people’s urgent needs.

The hospital is situated in one of the poorest regions of Lebanon, and the number of COVID-19 patients here has grown sharply, especially in the area close to the border with Syria. The only state-run hospital that was doing COVID-19 testing in the region has been plunged into a scandal after producing false test results and after discovering that the doctor in charge of the test laboratory was working with a fake diploma.

“The people in Zahle and the Bekaa Valley are living in a situation of chaos and fear. In the last two weeks the number of patients has increased dramatically in every region, and especially in Zahle and the Bekaa Valley, and our health system is on the point of reaching its maximum capacity,” Archbishop Darwish explains. The plan is to set up a test center in the Catholic hospital, to offer assistance to the local population of 150,000, including refugees and the most vulnerable among them.

“We hold people’s lives in our hands,” the archbishop continues, “and we have to offer them a laboratory they can have faith in. At present, people in the region aren’t even sure if most of the results are correct, and so there is an urgent need to test them again, so that we can track the virus more closely.”

There has been no official census in Lebanon since 1932. However, the most recent study carried out by Statistics Lebanon, puts the current number of Christians in Lebanon at 44 percent of the total population. But the country’s grave economic and political crisis has been driving many Christians to emigrate. Fed up with the corruption, the people have lost all faith in government. According to ACN’s own most recent report on international religious freedom, the percentage of Christians may well have fallen to some 32.2 percent of the total population of almost 6 million Lebanese. The war in neighboring Syria will have added around a million refugees, most of them Sunni Muslims.

Yet, despite this influx, Lebanon is still the country in the Middle East with the highest proportion of Christians, and one of the few in which they do not suffer problems of social or political discrimination. Many Iraqi and Syrian Christians have also sought refuge in Lebanon. Since October 2019 there have been ongoing demonstrations demanding a radical change of government; the devastating explosion which shattered Beirut Aug. 4, 2020 has brought the country to the brink of utter disaster.

—Maria Lozano