Lebanon: ‘our mission is to bring light into the darkness’
“OUR HIROSHIMA,” is how one survivor describes the tragic explosion of Aug. 4 in which she lost her home. “It was worse than a war because it happened so suddenly. All the hard work of years was destroyed in just seven seconds.” says the woman from the devastated quarter of the Lebanese capital Beirut. Even before this, the country was on its knees economically, but now the explosion has left many people deeply traumatized. As a consequence of the explosion, there is now an exodus of the population.
“Around 10 percent of the population of this particular suburb have left, because they can no longer live in their homes. I cannot do anything to stop them because I cannot offer them the security, which is what they are seeking. There are still people who are remaining hopeful, but every day it gets more difficult,” says Father Nicolas Riachy, the parish priest of the church of Saint Savior, which lost its roof in the explosion.
This Melkite Catholic church was built in 1890 and is a treasured historic monument and one of the oldest churches in the city. Saint Savior’s Church is situated in a symbolic place, situated as it is on the edge of the Christian quarter. “We are a sort of doorway to the Christian quarter,” the priest explains: hence the importance of repairing this church: “We want to give hope for those who still want to remain here. Our mission is to bring light into the darkness through which we are living. There is no Christianity without the Cross. Christ is our example. It is not easy to be a Christian, but many of our people are still very much aware that this land is holy land and we cannot abandon it.”
In spite of the terrible devastation, Father Nicolas still finds reason to give thanks to God, for had the explosion been just one day later the church would have been packed, since this was the vigil of its patronal feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord on Aug. 6.
This young priest is supervising the clean-up work that is now nearing completion. It will soon be possible to use the church again, but both in the main entrance and the side aisles there are still shattered windows and window frames blown out. A glass-windowed hall on the other side of the square is still unusable. But what worries Father Nicolas most of all is the roof of the church. “If the first of the winter rains arrive, they will spoil everything. And there is also a crack in the building which needs to be fixed, or else everything will come down,” he says.
“All the houses of our faithful have had their windows smashed and doors blown in. And on top of this we have the economic crisis. The banks have frozen people’s assets, so now they have nothing. How are they going to help me rebuild this church?”, he asks Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), one of the organizations which has promised to help with the reconstruction.
“Pope Francis has told us that a Middle East without Christians is unthinkable. If Christians are to remain in this country, we need each and every one of them. Let us hope that this church can continue to be a beautiful testimony to the word of the Lord,” says the priest.
ACN is helping the Christians who have been hardest hit by the explosion and has given close to $6M towards the reconstruction effort in Beirut. The Greek Melkite Catholic church of Saint Savior is among several projects the organization has promised to help.