On August 4, a fire in the capital city of Beirut, Lebanon spread to a warehouse containing some 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate.
The substance, which had been stored without the proper safety precautions, ignited in a massive explosion, sending a powerful shockwave through the city which blew out windows, knocked down buildings and killed at least 190 people while injuring an estimated 6,000 others.
Among the areas that sustained the worst damage were Beirut’s mostly Christian neighborhoods of Mar Maroun and Achrafieh. Roughly 36% of Lebanese people are Christians, with Maronite Catholics comprising the largest group, followed by smaller groups including Greek Catholics (Melkites), Armenian Catholics, Syriac Catholics, Roman Catholics, and Chaldean and Coptic Catholics.
Two months after the blast, the Syriac Catholic Patriarchate announced that it would be offering free tuition to students attending its schools in Lebanon, in addition to other financial assistance as needed.
The Church is a “[like a] mother, who senses the situation of her sons and daughters…[who] shares their pain, grieves for their sorrows, and rejoices for their joys,” the Patriarchate said in an Oct. 4 statement.
Given the “deteriorating conditions” in Lebanon after the blast, Patriarch Mor Ignatius Youssef III Younan, who is the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East for the Syriac Catholic Church, “decided to relieve all students” of Syriac Catholic schools in Lebanon of their tuition for this year, as well as any installments that were due from previous years, the statement said.
“We urge all [church members] to register their children in our schools according to their areas of residence, so that the Patriarchate can provide assistance to them [so they may] continue their studies in these difficult circumstances,” the statement added.
The Patriarchate noted in the statement that it has already provided much assistance to needy families this year, “including food baskets, money, medicine, and other things as possible” and that it aims to continue this mission as much as possible.
The Patriarchate also “exempted the residents of the St. Ephrem the Syriac complex in Ashrafieh - Beirut from rent” for July and August of this year, due to their “difficult financial situation,” and it will continue helping displaced church members, including refugees from Iraq and Syria, as well as those who lost their homes in the Beirut blast.
Catholics in need “should not hesitate” to contact their parish pastors for assistance, the statement noted, in order to “maintain their livelihood with decent human dignity” and in order to preserve their commitment to their church and their ability to stay in their homeland.
The statement also appealed to members of the Patriarchate who have the means to offer assistance at this time, either directly to their fellow Christians or through the Patriarchate, “following the example of the believers in the early Church who supported each other and had everything in common for the good of all.”
“May the Lord bless you all, and help us to persevere and continue our mission and live our faith and commitment despite the difficulties and challenges,” the statement concluded, invoking the intercession of the “Virgin Mary and all the saints and martyrs.”
The statement was signed by the secretary of the Syriac Catholic Patriarchate of Antioch.