By John Pontifex

A leading Catholic charity is preparing a second, vital program of urgent aid for Beirut, providing roofs over people’s heads before winter sets in.

Following a critical fact-finding and project-assessment trip to the Lebanese capital last week, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is developing a series of projects including repairs to key buildings devastated by last month’s explosion.

Building on ACN’s emergency help for nearly 6,000 families, approved just days after the blast, the latest aid program involves basic restoration of several churches as well as monasteries, presbyteries, catechetical centers, and convents.

The first phase of the aid is estimated at £1.8 million as the charity signals its commitment to provide long-term help to enable recovery from an explosion in which the Christian districts bore the brunt.

Nearly 200 people were killed, 6,500 injured and entire neighborhoods made homeless.

Dozens of church buildings suffered damage in Beirut, of which ACN is prioritizing those in most urgent need of repair.

Fresh back from Beirut, Reinhard Backes, ACN projects coordinator for the Middle East and Asia, said: “I have never seen anything like what I saw in Beirut.

“The pressure of the blast was so immense that it created a vacuum and in effect sucked out everything in its wake – not just windows but frames, indeed almost everything.

“What moved me most was to see the faith of the people – their determination not to be overcome by the tragedy that they have suffered.

“I was particularly struck by the testimony of a young father who literally broke down in tears in front of us as he described the impossible task of trying to provide for his family because of the crisis, especially the collapse in the value of the local currency.”

Backes said the support was part of a program involving other Catholic agencies, rebuilding homes, health care, and food distribution.

He added the support was urgently needed with growing fears of an exodus of Christians from Lebanon.

During his Lebanon trip, Backes traveled to Zahle and visited the St John the Merciful Table, which provides free meals for Syrian refugees, and while there received a request for renewed ACN help from project initiator Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop John Darwish.

Decisions about projects to be supported by ACN are expected in the coming days during which grant applicants are due to provide a full breakdown of costs, logistical information, and other details required by law and charity operating guidelines.

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