Six months after an explosion ripped through the Port of Beirut, killing more than 200 people, injuring 7,500, and causing $15 billion in property damage, efforts are ongoing to rebuild the Lebanese capital.
The Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, which includes many Lebanese-Americans as parishioners in its 45 churches along the East Coast, is assisting in the effort by raising money for relief organizations working on the ground like the St. Vincent de Paul Society and Caritas Lebanon.
Bishop Gregory Mansour of the eparchy said more than $2 million had been raised to date. “People have surprised me with so much generosity,” he said.
The donations range in size from $250,000 given by the Knights of Columbus to $10 donated by a fourth-grader. The Diocese of Brooklyn donated $91,000.
The eparchy’s role is to coordinate the fundraising and distribute the money to organizations.
“We have been the leader of the orchestra,” Bishop Mansour said.
The explosion took place on August 4. A subsequent investigation found that the blast was caused by a stockpile of ammonium nitrate stored at the port. In December, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab was charged with negligence after an investigation revealed that the government was warned about the danger of storing highly explosive materials at the location.
In the aftermath of the explosion, young people were out with brooms and shovels sweeping up the broken glass and debris. “Everyone pitched in,” Bishop Mansour said.
The groups providing aid include the Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services, Project Hope, Save the Children, and UNICEF.
The Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) got to work right after the blast. They raised funds and partnered with on-site organizations on food distribution and rebuilding homes, schools, and hospitals.
“Despite COVID and economic and political instability worldwide, Catholics around the world continue to give from the heart. There continues to be an outpouring of sacrificial love and generosity,” said CNEWA’s president, Msgr. Peter I. Vaccari.
In North America and Europe, donors have provided more than $4 million for CNEWA initiatives such as food distribution and repairing homes, schools, and hospitals.
John Abi-Habib, an honorary consul for Lebanon here in the U.S., said the pandemic is hampering rebuilding efforts. Lebanon is currently on lockdown and is expected to be until at least mid-February, he said.
In October, Bishop Mansour visited Beirut to observe the relief efforts. He saw a lot of good work being done but also witnessed political strife.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “the government there is as divided as we are here in the United States.”