WINDSOR TERRACE — Catholic organizations are pitching in to help the people of Lebanon rebuild their fragile nation following the Aug. 4 explosion in the port of Beirut that killed more than 180, injured thousands, and left 300,000 displaced from their homes.
The Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn has helped to raise almost $800,000 for relief efforts, according to Bishop Gregory Mansour. The eparchy is encouraging donors to send money to organizations such as Caritas Lebanon, a non-profit group working on the ground to provide food, clothing, and shelter to victims.
“This is an emergency,” Bishop Mansour told the Tablet.
Bishop Mansour said he was heartened by stories of generosity amid the devastation.
“People have taken relatives, even total strangers, into their homes,” he said.
The Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) is working on several relief projects. Darine Tawk, who is the on-site coordinator for CNEWA, said most of the debris from the explosion has been cleared from the streets thanks to a joint effort by government workers, the Lebanese Army, non-profit groups, and volunteers.
“We are starting this week with a distribution of 5,000 food packages in the affected areas through a joint venture project with Caritas funded by Aid to the Church in Need,” Tawk told The Tablet. “This will be followed by another food distribution next month with funds provided by CNEWA and later with other expected funds to come.”
CNEWA is also working with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a group that has seven centers in Beirut staffed by more than 200 volunteers.
“Another project that we are currently implementing is through reaching the most vulnerable, poor and highly affected people, supporting them in making their home habitable again by closing the damaged outer shell of the house,” Tawk added, “whether it is through the replacement of smashed windows and doors with new aluminum frames and glass, fixing the existing wooden windows and doors — if that is still possible — or even closing some holes in the outer masonry walls of the apartments where necessary.”
The volunteers are screening damaged homes and gathering details so rebuilding efforts can be prioritized. A committee for home restoration has been established that includes engineers and representatives of St. Vincent de Paul and CNEWA.
Catholic Relief Services is in Beirut working with Caritas Lebanon to distribute emergency supplies. John Abi-Habib, an honorary consul to Lebanon who works in Bay Ridge and lives in New Jersey, said the relief efforts in the U.S. are both large and small scale.
“Different organizations have big fundraising efforts. But parents and teenagers are raising smaller amounts,” he told The Tablet.
Members of the Salaam Club of New York have organized a clothing drive. Volunteers have collected clothing and will sort the items, then place them in boxes for shipment.
The group, Social and Economic Action for Lebanon (SEAL), has garnered $5 million so far to help rebuild a hospital destroyed in the blast, according to Abi-Habib.
Thirty-six nations from across the globe, including the U.S. and the members of the European Union, have pledged a total of $300 million to help Lebanon.
“African countries are sending whatever they can,” Abi-Habib said. Their donations include glass and aluminum — supplies that are needed to rebuild homes.
“A lot of victims are elderly. They are people who stayed in their homes for 40-50 years,” he added.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio has asked Catholics in Brooklyn and Queens to open their hearts – and their wallets – to the victims.
A special collection took place at all Masses during the Aug. 22-23 weekend. The funds will be sent by the Diocese of Brooklyn to provide direct assistance to the Christian community in Lebanon, the bishop announced in a letter to church pastors.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to those affected by this terrible disaster, especially the Christian community, which has been struggling,” Bishop DiMarzio wrote.
Donations are still being accepted. Anyone interested in making a donation can send a check to the Diocesan Finance Office, 310 Prospect Park West, Brooklyn, New York, 11215. Checks should be made out to: Compostela Fund of the R.C. Diocese of Brooklyn.
Even with relief efforts underway, Lebanon faces a long road back. The explosion led to the collapse of the government. Many Lebanese blame the government for the blast, charging that the government was negligent in allowing ammonium nitrate to be stored in a building in the port.
Lebanon was a troubled nation even before the explosion. The country is plagued by high unemployment and civil unrest. It has also been hit hard by COVID-19.
“Half the population has fallen below the poverty line. There is rampant food insecurity,” said Dalia Tarabay, a Lebanese activist living in New York.
The article was updated to include information about efforts by the Diocese of Brooklyn to raise funds to help victims in Lebanon’s Christian community.