Text by: Garrett Gundlach SJ, American Jesuit in Beirut. You can read more in Jesuits for Beirut.
“Two weeks after the Beirut explosion, following a long day of home visits to residents still shook by the blast, volunteers from a network of Lebanese university ministries processed through the rubbled streets with the Blessed Sacrament. Locals joined in. Ronney el Gemayel SJ, national director of this network, recalls thinking: -“The presence of Christ is here…in the middle of all of this absurdity.”- The procession ended with a prayer at a damaged Jesuit school, where the Gospel encounter of Jesus with Zaccheus was proclaimed.
Zaccheus, like the crowds of Jericho, went seeking Jesus as he passed through. One month now after the blast, the Jesuits in Beirut, far from pretending to play Jesus’ role in this story, still attentively seek Jesus with and among the crowds, discerning how best to follow.
From the economic crisis, its cries for reform, and the local threats of the COVID-19 pandemic to the tragic explosion of August 4, Jesuit institutions have walked with the Lebanese people every step of the way through this year’s distress, creatively responding at each junction. Gemayel calls this response a spirituality “aux yeux ouverts;” Dan Corrou SJ, director of Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) Middle East and North Africa, stresses the need to always “start from reality.” Formed in Ignatian spirituality, formed in the Gospel message of Matthew 25, Jesuit collaborators see this reality as the concrete sufferings, needs, and longings of their neighbors.
-“I was hungry and you gave me food.”- Since the pressures of the economic crisis, the Centre de Jeunesse Catholique (CJC) has stepped up to meet local alimentary needs. Tireless volunteers continue preparing hundreds of meals and food boxes each week for distribution. In other neighborhoods, JRS and the Afro-Asian Migrant Center continue to provide family food baskets – especially attentive to the particular vulnerability of migrants at this time.
-“I was in prison and you visited me.”- Beyond the needs assessments conducted door-to-door by NGOs, Jesuit collaborators recognized a need for more – visits that give survivors a space to speak freely from interior prisons of trauma, rage, and mourning. University campus ministries, now planning their 6th day of visits, have visited hundreds of apartments in affected areas, each day beginning with formation in active listening and ending with reflection. Already long committed to such home visits in their sphere, JRS recently recruited professionals to intensify efforts and imagine how best to create structures for longer-term, more sustainable community support programs. Jesuit director of the CJC, Gabriel Khairallah, celebrated the “missionary identity” of these Ignatian works that have stepped up to assemble, form and mobilize volunteers in the absence of state leadership. -“To overcome despair it takes real work, courage, resilience,”- shared Corrou: -“None of us can do that alone… we must hold it together, share it together and move through it together.”- As healing, building and rebuilding continue, we continue in this spirit – not only “together” in these emerging links of solidarity, but “together” with a God already at work in the streets.”
Photo: Jesuit director of the CJC, Gabriel Khairallah SJ