Lebanon has taken in the highest number of refugees in the world in proportion to its own population. The almost 1.5 million refugees in the country include many Christians. In the mainly Christian regions of the country, the local Church has been helping the poorest and most vulnerable to find a place to live and obtain the necessities of life. An example of this is the Melkite Diocese of Zahle, in the Bekaa Valley, close to the Syrian border. There are many Christian families there who have fled the war in neighboring Syria, and they are suffering from the current crisis in Lebanon itself. Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has no intention of abandoning them.
Many of these families feel terribly alone. Among them is the Rief family. They came here three years ago, fleeing the bombings and the war in Syria. The mother is a nurse, the father was a chef in a restaurant. They have three children, two of whom are adults now. Until recently, they managed to get occasional work, but as a result of the crisis they have lost their jobs and now nobody is bringing in any income for the family. Thanks to the support of ACN, the archdiocese is able to help them.
Since 2019, the aid supplied by ACN for various projects in support of the refugees in Zahle has come to a total of $4.4 million. A considerable part of this aid includes paying rent and providing accommodation for people like the Rief family. Another major part goes to providing necessities, such as food, clothing and essential medication.
One of the aid projects run by the Melkite Catholic Church in the country since December 2015 is the daily meal service known as the St John the Merciful Table. St John the Merciful was a saint renowned for his great love of the poor. Wherever he saw any need, he sought with all his energies and means to alleviate it. When he was Patriarch of Alexandria, he fed 7,900 people every day. He died around the year 619 and is venerated today as a saint by both Catholic and Orthodox Christians.
The food kitchen in Zahle is a regular meeting place for people who cannot afford a hot meal each day. Among them are many Syrian refugees, but also a steadily growing number of Lebanese. Every day some 1,000 people are given a hot meal here. In the past, they used to get food at various aid centers. However, with the arrival of the pandemic, some 800 people now come there for a hot meal to take home, while for another 200 or so, who are either incapacitated or unwell, the meals are brought to them at home. At the same time, they can enjoy some human contact and spiritual counselling.
One of the people who comes every day is Labiba, who lives with her two unmarried sisters in a room measuring just 54 square feet. They came from Homs, Syria two months ago because they were dying of hunger. The economic crisis had made it impossible for them to find work and they arrived with just the clothes on their backs. They are unable to cook either, because the room they live in has just two divan beds and a small paraffin stove. They are profoundly grateful to be able to eat at least one hot meal a day, thanks to the St. John the Merciful Table.
The people who come not only receive food for the body but also psychological and spiritual support and encouragement. They all agree that their faith is their sole source of strength and that it is only thanks to this that they can endure the poverty and hardship, exercising patience in the midst of their suffering.