In Lebanon, ‘a living witness to Christ on earth’
THERE ARE MANY PEOPLE milling around the small entrance to the Mother and Child Protection Center in Karm Al Zeitoun, a suburb of Beirut, the Lebanese capital. It is one of the six centers from which Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) emergency aid parcels are being distributed to the families most severely affected by the Aug. 4 explosion. Altogether, the organization is helping more than 5,800 families. At the center, the Daughters of Charity have undertaken to distribute this aid to 350 families. The two boxes of aid provide sufficient food for five people for a month.
One of those who came to the dispensary is Mona, a woman aged 52. She lives with her mother Juliette, who is 91 and who has witnessed at least five wars—or is it six? She can no longer remember exactly. “Ever since the explosion on August 4th she has been traumatized, she is startled by every single noise”, Mona tells ACN.
In a country where there is no retirement pension or social security, it has been the children who have supported their parents, or the weakest members of the family. But now, with the economic crisis, COVID-19 and the explosion, this has simply become impossible. Mona has been without work for five years now. Before the crisis, one of her brothers used to help her with 300 Lebanese pounds a month (roughly $200), but with inflation this only amounts to around 40 dollars, and besides her brother has “enough problems of his own taking care of his family.”
“In 1990 a missile struck my house, killing my sister. I went into a depression, but my faith helped me out. Without faith we could not continue, it is the one thing that helps us to endure the present situation; is the only thing left to us,” Mona says, adding: “Sister Rita comes whenever we need her, even though it may be very late, because she is always very busy, but she always manages to find time for us. For me, this is the living witness of Christ on earth.”
Sister Rita, whom Mona and Juliette refer to in almost every other sentence, belongs to the congregation of St. Vincent DePaul, and works in the dispensary. “The situation here is a tragic one, because they don’t have anything,” she says. The number of families being helped in the dispensary of the Daughters of Charity has increased more than four-fold. Before there were 120 families, now there are 500 families per month, Sister Rita reports.
In addition to the volunteers who are preparing for the food distribution, there are workmen working on the dispensary, since the building itself was damaged by the explosion. All the windows were broken and parts of the roof were blown off. “But we have to continue working, since we have now found someone to do the repairs, even though we can’t pay him for now,” says Sister Rita.
Among the boxes, piled up in the entrance and bearing the ACN logo, there is a crucifix nailed to the wall with a legend in French: “You are the sign of God’s mercy.” This is the perfect summary of the work done by these religious, which Sister Rita describes in these words: “Our charism is to alleviate the sufferings of Christ, who still suffers on this earth. We simply want to serve God and bear witness to Him, especially during this so difficult time we are going through.”
Later, Sister Rita herself goes with representatives of ACN to visit Nabil, another beneficiary of the emergency aid program sponsored by ACN. Nabil is 56, born an only child with a physical handicap. His mother, who normally cares for him, has been admitted to hospital, and it is neighbor Maral who is looking after him in her absence. The sisters are also paying for an assistant to look in on him every day. Sister Rita greets Nabil and talks and prays with him. When the explosion happened, she tells us, “all the windowpanes fell in on top of him; it’s a miracle he wasn’t badly hurt.”
Just at this time when so many people are talking of emigrating, says Sister Josephine, “this is the very moment to remain here. This is the time to support and accompany our people.” And Sister Rita recalls: “John Paul II told us that Lebanon carries a message. We Christians here have an important role to play in this country, and the day we forget this message, Lebanon will no longer be Lebanon.”