Beirut, young Christians and Muslims: the thread of hope
by Pierre Balanian

Thousands of young people are busy clearing the city of debris and rubble; they help elderly people to survive; they offer water and food paying with their own money or collected from friends and relatives. Young Syrian refugees also join in efforts. A Syrian Protestant pastor, a Muslim who converted to Christianity, offers sandwiches and bottles of water to the displaced.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - The city razed by a near-atomic bomb - the 4 August explosions were equal to one tenth the strength of the Hiroshima bomb - is paralyzed and devastated; the effort underway to restore some quasi normality to its appearance is mammoth.

The army is everywhere, but it has to give priority to maintaining security, avoid looting, protect sensitive sites, ensure traffic and the passage of emergency vehicles.

The Civil Defense is committed to extracting bodies from under the rubble, welcoming colleagues from all over the world, coordinating the work.

The politicians are engaged in meetings to find a modus vivendi, first of all among themselves, to then respond to the conditions set by the international community: the French president Emmanuel Macron was its spokesman and ambassador, explaining the conditions under which Lebanon can access new loans, lifting the sanctions imposed on the country.

Meanwhile, the city is covered with debris, glass, trees crossed by explosions, houses without walls that like a gloomy stage display what remains visible of a life suddenly interrupted; balustrades, balconies, walls, buildings and bridges that are in danger of falling at any moment.

Elderly and lonely people who wish to clear their homes but lack the strength or the courage do not know where to start. They cry, pray, hope, hiding their faces in their hands out of shame, pain, helplessness.

In this scenario of desperation, the true strength of a people has risen, its future, new, clean, dynamic energy, not a slave to political or economic interests: its young people.

They rushed from everywhere, from the north, from the south, from the mountains, organized in small groups of friends, armed with sweeping brushes, shovels, gloves and bags, they sleep in the open, work without speaking, without boasting, they act in silence, without a leader, without a coordinator, disorganized but the effects they produce are astounding.

They clean, fill bags, sweep streets and sidewalks, public buildings, clinics, hospitals, places of worship: like bees or ants they work tirelessly, without criticizing, ready to comfort anyone who suffers, hugging, offering water, sandwiches, fruit, hot meals.

Stalls have sprung up every 10 meters, offering bottles of water, food, fruit: all collected with their own initiatives, donations from families, friends, relatives.

"Why are we here?", explains Leila Mkerzi, a twenty-year-old wearing a T-shirt from the Order of Malta, "Because it is our duty. If we wait for the state alone to think of everything we just delay the bleeding". And she takes her brush back to sweep the staircase leading from Jemmeizeh to Ashrafieh.

Another group, three young people with a lady, are in front of a shop: they buy brushes, bags and gloves with their own money. The merchant does not give them any discounts. “We don't want anything, we just want to live,” says one of the young boys. Then his mother, Mrs. Rita Freim, intervenes immediately: “We don't think anymore, our heads are completely empty, we don't count on anyone anymore; no one from abroad has ever done anything concrete for us. What is the world doing? They send us two or three aid planes, they assuage their conscience and then leave. What did Macron come to do? Another farce. I have no more hope”. And as she is about to clean up she specifies: “I have no hope, but they - the young, yes. And I help them because they are still alive”.

In the streets of devastated Beirut, there are tens of thousands of young people: school friends, university students, scouts, parishioners, Muslims, Christians. A group of young people from Chouf refuses to say which of them is Druze; a group of Armenians from Bourj Hammoud, another destroyed neighborhood, claim: “We are Lebanese and that's it”.

Most of these young people were born after 2005-2006. They have not known the horrors of the civil war, but they have seen deprivation and failed governments; they lived without electricity, drinking water, work.

Orderly, willing, they want to create a better country with their own hands, a better future without expecting anything from abroad. Sure, they hope to get some support or help, but if it doesn't come, they'll do what they can with their own strength.

They also include young Syrian refugees in Lebanon. It is not their country, but pain and the will to change unites them with the Lebanese.

I saw only one religious, in a clergyman who distributed sandwiches and bottles of water to the displaced: he is a Syrian Protestant pastor from Afrin (northern Syria, occupied by the Turks).

His name is Hassan: he was a Muslim, converted to Christianity. “I see Christ in each of these people who today suffer, have no roof and are hungry,” he says before disappearing into the crowd of desperate people who crowd the center of Beirut.

In support of the people of Beirut and Lebanon, in support of Caritas Lebanon, AsiaNews has decided to launch the "In aid of devastated Beirut" campaign. Those who want to contribute can send donations to:

- PIME Foundation - IBAN: IT78C0306909606100000169898 - Institution identification code (BIC): BCITITMM -