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$1m donations to Lebanon ‘a drop in the ocean’ for country in crisis

Distress: A Lebanese demonstrator gesturing at a soldier near Beirut during a protest against the collapsing Lebanese currency and price hikes. Photos: CNS

AUSTRALIANS raised more than $1 million for the people of Lebanon in 2020, including more than half a million dollars to an appeal established by the Maronite diocese to support people severely impacted by last year’s deadly explosion in Beirut.

Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay, who is the head of the Maronite Catholic Diocese of Australia, launched the Beirut Disaster Relief Appeal with national charity Maronites on Mission on August 5, the day after a massive explosion rocked the Lebanese capital.

The explosion, which originated from Beirut’s port, killed more than 200 people and severely injured 6500.

The enormous blast wiped out entire neighbourhoods, leaving an estimated 300,000 people homeless.

It exacerbated an already struggling country which is facing its worst economic situation in three decades, resulting in a new wave of mass migration from Lebanon and dangerously low unemployment rate.

Bishop Tarabay, who visited the explosion site in Beirut in early November last year, said in a report released before his trip to Lebanon that the appeal had raised more than $495,000 in less than three months.

One month later that total came to more than $526,000.

This brought donations to all of Lebanon through the Maronite Diocese of Australia, which included funds from Brisbane benefactors, close to $1 million.

Bishop Tarabay shared the news with Australia’s Ambassador to Lebanon Rebekah Grindlay and pastor of the Maronite Eparchy in Beirut Bishop Boulos Abdel Sater while visiting damaged neighbourhoods in Beirut in early November last year.

He described the destruction and damage as “beyond what words can describe”.

“The love for Lebanon and the love of the Lebanese immigrants for the people of Lebanon is greater than any tragedy or greater than any challenge,” Bishop Tarabay said in a video report of his visit.

“My thanks goes to all the benefactors in Australia who are helping and who called out for help, doing their best so we can together provide assistance as long as we can during these difficult circumstances in Lebanon.

Upheaval: Demonstrators take part in protests near the site of the August 4 blast at Beirut’s port area, in Lebanon. Pope Francis wrote a Christmas letter to people of Lebanon, who are still suffering the emotional and political aftermath of the August explosion at the port of Beirut.

“Certainly I say this is maybe a drop in the ocean … because when we go out and look, I looked and noted huge destruction but the determination and the will of the Lebanese residents and immigrants are greater than this destruction, and I am sure that Beirut will be rebuilt.”

Bishop Tarabay is calling for support of a new sponsorship program established in partnership with Caritas Lebanon.

Launched in Advent last year, the Lebanese Family Appeal aims to support 500 families in distress and unable to access basic food and other necessities because of the country’s dwindling economy.

Brisbane Maronite priest Fr Fadi Salame said he was proud and grateful for Brisbane Catholics who had contributed a significant amount to his bishop’s various fundraising campaigns.

The parish priest of St Maroun’s Church, Greenslopes, which is waiting for a green light from Brisbane City Council to build a new church for its community, said the Lebanon of today was almost unrecognisable.

“Lebanon is very bad now, especially with the economy and the Lebanese currency, and on top of it the coronavirus,” Fr Salame said.

“People can’t cope with anything.

“They can’t get their money from the bank

“People are suffering from everything there – from corruption, from politicians, from poverty, from everything.

“It’s horrible in Lebanon.”

Tragedy: Smouldering debris in Beirut on August 5 following two massive explosions the day before near the port of the Lebanese capital, killing more than 200 people. Photo: CNS

While thousands of people have fled the country, most of Fr Salame’s family are still living in Lebanon “dreaming about their country”.

“But you know in Lebanon, people always still hope that they are going to be better,” Fr Salame said.

“They’re dreaming about their country, a better Lebanon always, always, instead of all the trouble, and all the problems, the wars and everything.”

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