Islamist threats, persistent violence, and financial bankruptcy: Christians in Lebanon are less and less inclined to remain in their Levantine land, preferring exile to the fear of an ever darker and uncertain future there.
“The number of Christians in the country is decreasing day by day, and this is badly affecting the situation and causing still more pressure for those who remain, in a situation where they might soon suffer from persecution.” The observation made by Fr. Jad Chlouk, parish priest of the Maronite Cathedral of Saint-Georges in Beirut, is as clear-sighted as it is severe.
In an interview given on January 8, 2021 to the organization Aid to the Church in Distress (AED), the priest described the Lebanese Christians subjected to the temptation of exile: “The statistics show that more than 380,000 requests for immigration were presented to the embassies of the EU and countries of North America, and that most of them were from Christians, who unfortunately now feel like strangers in their own home country,” he explains.
The explosion that devastated part of Beirut on August 4, 2020, acted as a catalyst: Christians were the most affected in their Christian neighborhoods of Gemyazeh, Mar Mickaël, and Acharfieh, located near the port.
About 100 schools were also damaged, ten hospitals in whole or in part, 3,000 companies run by Christians had to file for bankruptcy, and 300,000 Christians lost their homes. Finally, at least a hundred churches suffered damage, often very serious.
An then there is a tense political context: violence between Lebanese and Syrian refugees who left their country because of the civil war, has been on the increase for several months. In addition, Hezbollah, a pro-Iranian militia, controls almost all resources and uses them at will, at the expense of Christians.
To top it off, the Covid-19 epidemic has exposed the flaws in the Lebanese health system which, at the beginning of the year 2021, is on the verge of collapse, while a fourth general containment in ten months, has just started.
At the Sacred Heart Catholic School in Beirut, morale is low. During her philosophy lessons, Louise Mahla notes the fear of the future is shared by the high school students. “There is a big difference in telling them that all is well and that they must stay at all costs,” argues the teacher. “The situation is such that I encourage them instead to leave, if they have the means and the academic ability, leave and come back if things change,” she explains.
Fr. Chlouk wants to remain resolutely optimistic: “Hope is always our daily bread, especially in these dark times. Despite everything, we look towards the future with hope, because we know that our Lord Jesus Christ is the master of history, and that in his hands lie all our history and life.”