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A letter from Fr. Daniel Corrou, SJ, a Jesuit of the East Coast Province, serving in Beirut with Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS):

Dear friends,

Many of you have heard of the tragic explosion in Beirut on August 4. I am happy to say that all the Jesuits and the staff of JRS are safe. Many had cuts and scrapes from broken glass, and a few concussions, but no major injuries, thanks be to God.  Unfortunately, three people who participated in programs offered by JRS in Beirut were killed. We are deeply saddened by this. Please keep them in your prayers.

On the evening of August 4, I was in the office with a few other people, and we heard the initial explosions which alerted us to something out of sorts. No one, not even those who lived through the Lebanese Civil war or the 2006 war with Israel had ever heard anything like the explosion that followed.

The Church, the JRS offices and the Jesuit residence (all of them about 1.5 km from the blast site) have all been shattered. All windows and doors have been broken and buildings were shaken or toppled. The JRS school and community center in Burj Hammoud (a poor neighborhood of Beirut with many displaced Syrians) were also badly hit.

We have already begun the response. We had some funds already for COVID-19 relief for food and hygiene kit distribution. We will continue those and try to expand. The difficulty now is that people do not have places to cook food. Many new challenges.

JRS social workers and psychologists have already begun the response efforts as well, working with people and groups over the phone to accompany people who had left Syria because of the violence and explosions in their homes. This has become a trauma, on a trauma, on a trauma – a life altering explosion, on a refugee life, on violence in their home.

There is much speculation about the reasons for the explosion, but also much cynicism about whether anything effective can be done in response. This comes after many months of social and economic turmoil in this small, beautiful country.

During the initial clean up, I found myself alone in the Jesuit church covered in dust and broken glass. I sat on a broken pew and stared at the simple red candle of the tabernacle that had not blown out. In this large, damaged, dusty, beautiful church, it was the only light. The Lamb of God, broken and beautiful, with us.

Many have said it, but 2020 has been a difficult year, and it’s only August. However, in that quiet moment in the church, sitting with Jesus, I knew that if Jesus isn’t leaving us in our brokenness, how can we leave one another in our brokenness. The brokenness is painful and traumatic, but the brokenness must lead to being given. It would be easy and more comfortable to run away, but God does not do that from our chaos, God remains; the least we can do is linger with God.

I include a photo of the JRS Damascus team, as a sign of solidarity with JRS and the people of Beirut. The people of Damascus know brokenness, they also know beauty. This photo was a wonderful reminder to me and all of us in JRS here in Beirut.

Many have asked how they can help.  Of course, we rely on your prayers and solidarity.  If you would like to contribute funds to the relief effort, then you may donate here.

Thank you for all of your notes and concern. Be assured that you are all in my prayers.

– Dan Corrou, SJ

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