By John Pontifex

Thousands of young Christian volunteers are on the ground in Beirut delivering emerging help, as Lebanon reels from the explosion that ripped through the heart of the capital.

With schools, convents, and parishes opening up as refuge centers following the blast on Tuesday (4th August), Monsignor Toufic Bou-Hadir, director of the Maronite Patriarchal Commission for Youth, described how teams of young people were clearing the debris and delivering urgent aid, with medicine, clothes, blankets, and food in huge demand.

The priest highlighted the young people’s “amazing” response to what he called “an apocalypse” in which 300,000 families had been displaced.

He made his comments in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Catholic charity which is providing food for 5,000 families affected by the explosion.

Mgr Bou-Hadir, an ACN project partner, highlighted the ordeal of people desperately searching for news of missing loved ones and the trauma of trying to identify the dead from badly disfigured bodies being placed in a makeshift mortuary.

Amid reports that Beirut’s mainly Christian district of Achrafieh was worst devastated by the blast, the priest described how the body of one of the Maronite young people, named Joe, aged 25, was discovered deep in the rubble, holding a cross.

Mgr Bou-Hadir said that the Catholic youth had always resisted calls to leave the country, saying that he had – as Joe put it – to stay in order to “water the cedar”, the national symbol of Lebanon.

The priest added: “Now, Joe has watered the cedar with his blood.”

Both Mgr Bou-Hadir and fellow Beirut ACN project partner Sister Hanan Youssef stressed the toll of the explosion on the people, saying they were totally dependent on international aid as Lebanon’s economic crisis had rendered the country helpless.

Sister Hanan told ACN: “I survived 15 years of civil war and yet I could not imagine such a horrible thing happening to our people.”

She added: “More than ever, the people are in need of help. We are so grateful for the prayers and support of our dear friends at ACN.”

Acknowledging the generous response of benefactors to the ACN Lebanon Emergency Appeal, Neville Kyrke-Smith, the charity’s UK National Director, said: “I would like to thank those who are standing in solidarity with all who are suffering in Beirut at this tragic and painful time.”

“The support of ACN benefactors across Lebanon and elsewhere in the region is absolutely vital to sustaining the Christian presence in the Middle East amidst the sufferings of conflict, violence, upheavals, and tragedy.”

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