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'This is What Death Looks Like': Lebanon's Christians Reeling From Explosion as Some Say Country Too Dangerous to Stay

08-05-2020
A man removes religious icons from the floor of a damaged church a day after an explosion hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020.
A man removes religious icons from the floor of a damaged church a day after an explosion hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020.

JERUSALEM, Israel - “We are all going to die. This is what death looks like,” Julie Tegho recalled thinking to herself as the entire building shook and glass shattered around her.

She is one of many Lebanese who were in Beirut Tuesday evening when a massive explosion at the port flattened entire neighborhoods and sent billowing red and orange mushroom clouds towards the sky. 

“At first I thought it was an earthquake,” Julie told CBN News. “The glass started shattering on the floor…I thought the entire building was going to collapse on us.”

Julie had been shopping for a birthday present for her father at a local mall when the port exploded. She and her family are grateful to walk away with only stitches. But today, like many Lebanese, she is grieving the death of close friends and loved ones who were killed in the blast.

Tuesday’s port explosion killed at least 100 people and wounded more than 4,000. Officials expect the toll to rise as countless people are missing, believed to be trapped under mountains of debris.

Julie, a Lebanese Christian and researcher at the Philos Project, said two predominately Christian neighborhoods in Beirut – Mar Mikhael and Gemmaye – were hit particularly hard.

“Everyone was either lightly wounded or they were just in disbelief. I mean, when you would walk, you could tell that it was just a post-apocalyptic scene,” she explained. “The extent of the damage left us speechless.”

The blast devastated churches and religious centers in Lebanon. Video on Twitter shows a priest giving mass as a loud explosion shakes the church. Stained glass windows burst as he and parishioners attempt to flee the crumbling house of worship.

Who is Responsible?

The cause of the catastrophic blast is still under investigation. Lebanese officials say it appeared the explosion was caused by the detonation of more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate that was being stored in a warehouse at the port after it was confiscated from a cargo ship in 2014.

US President Donald Trump said Tuesday military generals told him they “seem to feel” the explosion was a “terrible attack.”

Meanwhile, the Associated Press cited an Israeli explosives expert and an American missile specialist who suggest that the explosion was not an attack, but an accident caused by a fire or “cheap pyrotechnics.”

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Whatever the source of the explosion is, many Lebanese blame their leaders.

“People are just angry at the government because whatever the cause is, nobody in the government is taking responsibility,” Julie explained.

“They’re just sending out empty promises…the culprit is the government in the sense that they’re not owning up to what happened.”

An Exodus of Christians?

The blast came as Lebanon is on the verge of collapse caused by an economic crisis that has spiraled out of control due to corruption and mismanagement. Before COVID-19 hit, tens of thousands of Lebanese took to the streets to demand new leaders. 

Julie said the explosion is “just another nail in the coffin” for many Lebanese Christians who were considering leaving their country for better opportunities.

“For many Christians who were thinking about leaving, yesterday’s explosion may be the reason they were waiting for. The Christian community has been feeling recently that they’re left out by the international community,” she said.

Many Christians in Lebanon feel targeted and trapped by the Hezbollah's grip on the government and are urging the world to take notice before it is too late. They blame the Iranian-backed terror group for running their country into the ground.

“The Christian community seeks a stronger stance from the international community, notably France and the US, to guarantee a future for them. They don’t see that happening any time soon,” she continued. 

Prayer and Action

Fr. Miled el-Skayyem of the Chapel of St. John Paul II in Keserwan, Lebanon, is asking Christians around the world to pray for his broken country.

“We ask your nation to carry Lebanon in its hearts at this difficult stage and we place great trust in you and in your prayers, and that the Lord will protect Lebanon from evil through your prayers,” he said in a statement to EWTN news.

Middle Eastern Christians have already answered that call.

“We raise prayer for the souls of the dead and for recovery of the injured people, and we pray for stability and prosperity of Lebanon and express our solidarity with all citizens of Lebanon in these difficult times,” The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land said in a statement.

While Julie said prayers are appreciated, the Church must work towards ensuring Christianity has a thriving future in Lebanon through lobbying and political efforts.

“Prayers can help of course, but prayers need to translate into tangible efforts to make sure that Christians can have a safe home in Lebanon and not feel scared to live in their own country.”

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