Lebanon, caught in crossfire between Israeli army and militant groups, needs prayer

(Photo: Getty/iStock)

Christian leaders and welfare groups are calling for renewed prayer from believers around the world as the conflict in the Middle East continues to escalate, trapping civilians in southern Lebanon between the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and militant groups like Hezbollah.

"The eyes of the world are on the war in Gaza, but something that the media rarely reports is the fact that this has resulted in an armed conflict taking place in southern Lebanon," said Marielle Boutros, Project Coordinator of the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in Lebanon.

"As with the people in Gaza, this is not the first war which the people in southern Lebanon have had to experience. They can't cope with the noise of the rockets anymore and are traumatised. They really need our prayers."

Not only do civilians living near the border with Israel face the danger of daily rocket strikes, they find themselves struggling to make ends meet amongst the wreckage left behind. According to data gathered by ACN, many were already living in extreme poverty due to the ongoing financial crisis which began in 2019. They are now dealing with the continuing impact of the conflict, and are unable to relocate to safer regions.

Maronite Catholic Archeparch Charbel Abdallah of Tyre, one of the oldest archdioceses in the world, told ACN that the majority of those who had originally fled to Beirut or parts of Lebanon further to the north seeking safety had found themselves forced to return or running out of money, while others struggled to find accommodation or were put up by relatives who were themselves lacking the capacity to take them in.

In the 10 parishes near the Israeli border that make up the bulk of the Maronite Archdiocese of Tyre, 70 per cent of believers have now returned. However, Archeparch Abdallah said that the parishes of Alma el Chaeb and Quzah are "still nearly empty because they lie entirely in the areas of the air strikes" and "a large proportion of the houses there have been completely destroyed".

Those believers who have returned find themselves living in a "state of war" and are unable to make a living from their villages and farms. Archeparch Abdallah said that it is now impossible for farmers to bring in a harvest, the only source of income for many, due to their fields being in a conflict zone and the fires caused by phosphorus bombs destroying cultivated fields and fruit trees.

"In the face of these many needs the state is completely absent," Archeparch Abdallah said. "The people are becoming poorer and poorer and can no longer live dignified lives."

"Because of extreme inflation, the insurance cover of the social security fund for hospital stays, visits to the doctor or medicine are hardly present."

Ms Boutros praised leaders and the charity's project partners like the Archeparch for their courage and faithfulness "in the face of the constant danger".

"None of them–whether bishops, priests, religious brothers or nuns–have left the region," she said.

"They feel responsible for staying with the people in their need and offering them support and comfort."

Archeparch Abdallah continues to visit these parishes every Sunday, as well as occasionally during the week, in order to meet with the faithful and to "see what needs they have and to help them with our modest means". He said that the visits "encourage the people enormously–they sense that they have not been left in the lurch by the Church".

However, the Archeparch stressed that the local church simply does not have the resources required to meet such pressing need, and they need the help of their fellow believers around the world.

"Every month, ACN provides food parcels to thousands of needy families and thereby gives vital support," he said. "Beyond this, hundreds of sick people receive monthly help to buy medicine.

"The charity has also equipped a health centre in one of our big parishes to support the local families."

Thanking all those who have assisted, the Archeparch concluded with one more vital request of Christians around the world.

"Please pray for us, pray that this war in the Middle East ends as quickly as possible," he said.