MARONITE Catholics of Brisbane are appealing for prayers for Lebanon, a nation in crisis.
“We would like people to join us in prayers. Really, that’s the main thing that we need,” George Tawk, a Lebanese Catholic from the Maronite parish of St Maroun’s, Greenslopes, said.
“Just we need them to join us in prayers for the safety of Lebanon, especially because Lebanon has the biggest Catholic community in the Middle East – next to where Jesus was born, next to the Holy Land.
“What we really need, we need support through prayers and through emotional and sentimental support.”
Mr Tawk, who is in daily contact with family members in Lebanon, keeps track of the nation’s woes as it suffers under a corrupt government and economic crisis.
Nationwide protests erupted last October and continued until the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People took to the streets from all religions – Christians, Muslims, Jews – everyone just got up and said that we should get rid of all these people, all these corrupt people, and come back with a new generation (of leaders) …,” Mr Tawk said.
“There was two million people in the streets protesting against corruption.
“And all these protests kept happening till the coronavirus hit.”
The protests stopped as citizens went into isolation.
“But people were worried that during all the isolation, the government could be doing something in secret, especially because the value of our Lebanese lira went dramatically down.
“And prices of (everything) including food, went up by three or four times.
“So people decided, ‘Well, that’s it, even with the coronavirus, we’re going back onto the streets because we can’t support this anymore’.
“It looks like the Lebanese people are really determined to go all the way, whatever the cost is”.
Mr Tawk said his family indicated protesting was the people’s last resort.
“In Lebanon, there is no other choice,” he said.
“Going back is not an option because things can’t get any worse.”
Catholic News Service reported early in May that the Maronite Catholic Church in Lebanon was devising a social assistance and food aid plan to help needy families as more Lebanese slid into poverty amid the financial collapse.
The initiative, announced on May 6 by Maronite patriarch Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai would be based on an inventory of needs carried out by the Church’s dioceses, religious orders and Caritas Lebanon.
Cardinal Rai said the program would include “every family that suffers from a lack of a breadwinner” so as “not to fall prey to hunger, despair and death”.
Lebanon’s economic crisis further deteriorated after nationwide protests against a corrupt political class began last October.
Since then, banks have limited withdrawals, and the local currency has shed more than half its value.
Inflation has climbed to more than 50 per cent.
Nearly 50 per cent of the population are living below the poverty line, and unemployment has reached 35 per cent , according to the government.
Many of those who still are employed have seen their salaries slashed in half.
Job losses and economic hardship were further exacerbated by Lebanon’s lockdown measures to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Lebanese government, formed in January, approved an economic rescue plan on April 30.
Mr Tawk said the Brisbane Maronites had staged a small protest in the city at the beginning of the crisis in solidarity with the people of Lebanon.
“But the real support is, first of all, we are praying for this to keep going,” he said.
“Really that’s the support that people need in Lebanon so they can keep going on, and hold the hope so they can stay on the streets, keep protesting, keep demanding so the situation will get better.
“And that’s what all the Catholic community is doing here in Brisbane, and also in Sydney and in Melbourne.
“Before the Masses stopped (because of social distancing restrictions) and before the coronavirus, every Sunday during Mass we were praying for the people in Lebanon, that the protests remain peaceful, because, thank God, with all the protests in streets there’s been no violence …”