By John Pontifex

Christians in Beirut have responded with defiance amid reports that groups seeking to profit from last week’s explosion are trying to persuade them to sell up and leave.

After the latest estimates suggested that 300,000 families were displaced by the blast on 4th August, Monsignor Toufic Bou-Hadir described how people – including the elderly – are opting to keep their damaged homes rather than accept offers to sell their properties.

In an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which is providing emergency aid for victims of the blast, Mgr Bou-Hadir said: “There are people trying to profit from this catastrophe and buy land and homes from the Christians.”

He went on: “People want to stay. A number of the old people – and younger ones too – are staying in their homes even ones that are damaged.”

“With all respect to people who hold other religious beliefs, we cannot sell Christian homes to others.”

“We do not want to change the demography. The land does not only have material value. It is our dignity. It is where we have our roots.”

Stressing that Christian districts of Beirut bore the brunt of the explosion, Mgr Bou-Hadir said that in the past few days Church leaders had worked with politicians to frustrate land-grabbers by passing legislation preventing the faithful from selling their homes.

Meantime, nearly 300 young people packed Beirut’s damaged Maronite Cathedral for a night vigil where they heard Archbishop Paul Abdel Sater call on them not to lose faith in their future in the city in spite of the explosion on 4th August.

Mgr Bou-Hadir, who is director of the Maronite Patriarchal Commission for Youth, praised the young people, who he said had been working hard as volunteers to clear the streets of debris caused by the explosion and provide emergency supplies to families.

Within hours of the catastrophe, ACN agreed on an emergency package to provide food to 5,000 families.

Mgr Bou-Hadir stressed that Beirut’s road to recovery would be long and complicated, with reports that 200 people were killed and 6,000 injured.

He said: “I want to thank Aid to the Church in Need for helping to provide essential support.

“To begin with, there was just shock, people were just focused on trying to survive.

“Now people are taking in the full impact of what has happened and they are realizing just how hard and difficult the future will be, but our hope is Christ.”

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