Pope Francis this morning prayed for all the victims of yesterday’s terrible explosions in the port of Beirut that caused over 100 deaths and injured some 4,000 people. He also appealed to the social, political and religious forces in the country and to the international community to work together to help Lebanon overcome this terrible tragedy.
He issued his appeal from the apostolic library in the Vatican on Aug. 5 as he resumed his Wednesday audiences after a month-long stay-at-home vacation but without the presence of pilgrims as part of coronavirus pandemic safeguards.
“Yesterday in Beirut, near the port, there were massive explosions causing dozens of deaths, wounding thousands and causing serious destruction,” Francis said.
He invited the global audience following the live-streamed transmission: “Let us pray for the victims, for their families; and let us pray for Lebanon so that, through the dedication of all its social, political and religious elements, it might face this extremely tragic and painful moment and, with the help of the international community, overcome the grave crisis they are experiencing.”
Pope Francis: “Let us pray for the victims, for their families; and let us pray for Lebanon so that it might face this extremely tragic and painful moment and, with the help of the international community, overcome the grave crisis they are experiencing.”
The situation in Lebanon, a country of 6.8 million people roughly divided between Muslims and Christians that is bordered by Syria to the north and east and Israel to the south, was already difficult before the explosion. The nation was suffering from economic collapse, a surge in Covid-19 and growing social unrest, but the explosion in the port has turned the ongoing national struggle into an acute catastrophe.
“People are in despair and very worried about their friends and families, hospitals are overwhelmed, and all are very concerned about the toxic gasses filling the air. God save the country and the people,” a Lebanese source who did not wish to be named told America.
Aid groups say the blast threatens to open a new humanitarian crisis in an impoverished nation that hosts hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and is already struggling to stay afloat amid an economic collapse and soaring rates of poverty and unemployment. The explosion destroyed numerous apartment buildings, potentially leaving many homeless at a time when Lebanese have lost their jobs and savings due to the currency crisis.
Lebanon’s top Catholic cleric, Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite patriarch, has called for a U.N.-controlled fund to be set up to manage aid for the reconstruction of Beirut and other international assistance to aid the stricken country.
“Hundreds of families are homeless. All this is happening and the state is in an economic and financial situation which makes it incapable of dealing with this human and urban catastrophe,” he told Vatican News.
“The church, which has set up a relief network throughout Lebanese territory, now finds itself faced with a new great duty, which it is incapable of assuming on its own,” said Cardinal Rai, urging for help “without any political consideration because what happened is beyond politics and conflicts.”
Damage was sustained by several Catholic agencies, including the CNEWA/Pontifical Mission and Caritas Lebanon, but staff were safe. A nearby Franciscan church and friary were reportedly destroyed, but there was no loss of life.
“It is a terrible and disastrous situation and today we live in a total confusion,” said Rita Rhayem, director of Caritas Lebanon, whose staff immediately took action to bring relief to those affected by the explosion.
The Caritas confederation is also launching an emergency plan coordinated by the general secretariat of Caritas Internationalis to immediately assist victims.
“The situation is critical and this is the first time that we have experienced a situation of such great magnitude, it is apocalyptic, but we don't stop, and we will carry on in order to help all those in difficulty,” Dr. Rhayem said in a statement.
“There are a lot of dead and a lot of injured, and the health situation is likely to worsen quickly, as the toxic gases can cause additional health problems. Caritas Lebanon is preparing for this, but its health centers have no means to face this kind of situation, and rescue operations are made even more difficult by the lack of electricity,” Rhayem explained, underlining the severity of the situation.
With reporting from Catholic News Service
Editor’s Note: This story, which has been updated, was originally published as one single article about the pope’s audience, but in the interest of clarity has been split into two. Read about the pope's new series on social doctrine here.