Christians in Lebanon are facing a situation of profound crisis, and in response to this the international Catholic pastoral pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has approved three emergency aid projects for the most vulnerable families and for the refugees in the regions of Zahleh 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 Zaleh, the principal city of the Bekaa governorate in Lebanon.
Two of these projects are designed to supply urgent basic necessities for the families with the most significant needs lacking the basic necessities. Archbishop Darwish has asked ACN to supply funding for food packages to alleviate the suffering of many families in Zaleh and the Bekaa Valley.
Owing to the coronavirus, the current situation is so atrocious that many of these families cannot even obtain the most basic of necessities. A second project will help another group of families in need living in the parishes of the Maronite diocese of Baalbek and Deir el-Ahmar, in the north of the Bekaa Valley. Thanks to this aid, the families, who are living below the poverty threshold, will at least have some security for the next three months.
“Your financial aid is of the greatest importance, and it has arrived just when it was most needed. It will have a real impact and will help a great number of needy people. We have no words to express our gratitude. It is the wonderful gestures of others like these that keeps us going most days. This is a tremendous help to us at a very difficult moment, a ray of sunshine that brings us some hope,” said Dr. Mireille Bechara, the director of projects for the Maronite diocese of Baalbek.
Support for coronavirus screening
In addition to these two projects, and given the growing number of COVID-19 infections and the lack of testing capacity in the country, ACN is supporting the set-up of a Covid-19 test centre in the Tel Chiha hospital in Zaleh – a hospital established by the Melkite archdiocese of Zaleh and Furzal for the city and surrounding Bekaa area – an indispensable element in the fight to alleviate the suffering.
This hospital is situated in one of the poorest areas of Lebanon. The number of COVID-19 patients here has seen a significant increase, especially in the area bordering on Syria. The only state-run hospital providing testing has been plunged into a scandal after false test results were given and the discovery the doctor in charge of the test laboratory, was working with a fake diploma.
“The people in Zahleh 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 Zaleh and the Bekaa Valley, and our health system is on the point of reaching its maximum capacity,” Archbishop Darwish explains.
This is why a plan is to create a test centre in the Catholic hospital to serve the local population of 150,000 people, including refugees and the most vulnerable, is necessary.
“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 go back and test them, so that we can track the virus more closely.” Regina Lynch, Head of ACN’s project department, underlines: “As we all know, Lebanon is going through immense suffering, especially in Beirut, following the disastrous explosion in the city, but at the same time we can’t forget the coronavirus crisis, which is still growing in the region. An important aspect of the pastoral outreach of the Church in the present emergency situation in the country includes attending to the basic needs of the people, such as the food parcels and basic medical care.”
Christians continue to emigrate
There has been no official census in Lebanon since 1932. However, the most recent study carried out by Statistics Lebanon, a survey company based in Beirut, estimates the current number of Christians in Lebanon at 44% of the total population. But the grave economic and political crisis has, for many years, been driving many Christians to emigrate. Fed up with the corruption, the people have lost all faith in the government and the politicians. According to ACN’s own most recent report into religious freedom worldwide, however, the percentage of Christians may well have fallen to around 32.2% of the total population of almost 6 million Lebanese, to which it is thought that the war in neighbouring Syria will have added around a million refugees, most of them Sunni Muslims.
Yet, despite this immigration, Lebanon is still the country in the Middle East with the highest proportion of Christians in the population 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, following the recent years of persecution and war in their own countries.
Since last October there have been ongoing demonstrations demanding a change of regime in the country. But the devastating explosion which shattered Beirut on August 4 of this year, has brought the country to the brink of the precipice.