By Paula Katinas and Jessica Easthope
The power of prayer is needed to help heal Lebanon, according to religious leaders who gathered at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Cathedral on Aug. 25 for a prayer service that doubled as a fundraising event for the victims of the Beirut explosion.
“We are all coming together in the spirit of cooperation to help the good people of Lebanon,” said Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn.
The Eparchy had already embarked on a major fundraising drive to help Lebanon rebuild and Bishop Mansour said he was hopeful the prayer service, which included a collection, could add to the nearly $800,000 in funds that have already been pledged, including $250,000 from the Knights of Columbus.
The prayer service attracted a wide variety of religious leaders of different Christian denominations.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York was among those who spoke at the service. Lebanon, which gained a reputation over the years as a country where people of different religions can live side-by-side peacefully, is a special place, he said.
“Lebanon is more than a word. Lebanon is an icon. Lebanon is a dream,” Cardinal Dolan told the congregation.
Also in attendance was Abir Taha Audi, the consul general of Lebanon.
“We are here to pray together as one,” she told The Tablet. “We’re still mourning. We’re still sad. We’re still angry.”
But Audi added that the service reveals the positive side of people and that “today, you’re going to see the best of Lebanon.”
Vivian Akel, a parishioner of Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Cathedral, told The Tablet she felt she needed to come to the prayer service because “Lebanon represents the best of us. It’s important to support them.”
The blast took place in a building in the port of Beirut on Aug. 4, killing 181 people, injuring thousands, and leaving 300,000 displaced from their homes. The force of the explosion flattened buildings, destroyed cars, and left shattered glass all over the area. The cause of the explosion is still under investigation by the Lebanese government but the building where the blast took place contained 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate.
The two recurring themes throughout the prayer service were the resiliency of the Lebanese people and the power of prayer.
“It will take more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate to destroy Lebanon,” said Father Dominique Hanna, the rector of Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Cathedral.
Archbishop Joseph Zahlawi, the Metropolitan of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, who delivered the homily, said “letting the light of Christ shine through us,” is what will save Lebanon.
“Beirut is crying for our help and calling on us to be united,” he said.