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Father Raymond Abdo, Provincial of the Discalced Carmelites in Lebanon and Syria Father Raymond Abdo, Provincial of the Discalced Carmelites in Lebanon and Syria 

Carmelite Provincial in Beirut: people in Lebanon are losing hope

Father Raymond Abdo, Provincial of the Discalced Carmelites in Lebanon and Syria, shares his feelings with Vatican News about the situation in the country, describing the despair taking over so many Lebanese families.

Vatican News

"The present situation in the country is the result of several years of economic speculation and of a wider process in the region in which all countries are facing crisis, and in which spiritual values and human rights are not respected”. Father Raymond Abdo welcomes us in his home in the Convent of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Hazmieh, a district near Beirut. The building, currently being renovated, is a centre of spirituality, where many families meet up for a time of sharing with the Discalced Carmelites.

Father Raymond does not dwell on political analysises - "it is very complicated here", he says. He only remarks that "from the Christian point of view, there are always undefinable hidden forces who can create this kind of desperation in people”.

He explains the socio-economic situation in Lebanon in a nutshell, saying  the middle class has practically disappeared: “Families have lost all their income, even their bank savings, which are their lifetime earnings”. The salary of those who still work has lost 90 percent of its value. As a result, families are no longer able to meet their basic needs . Thus, “75  percent of Lebanese families are now  below the poverty line”.

Fr Raymond Abdo “Many families live in utter poverty”

A bankrupt economy

To put it in figures, before the crisis a decent life was possible in Lebanon with a $1,000 salary. Today, the same wage in Lebanese Pounds is worth only $80, and at the same time all prices of daily foodstuffs have increased. Buying cheese, ham or meat has become impossible.

“We have become vegetarians out of necessity,” we were told by people in Beirut. A tank of about 45 litres of fuel, costs 800,000 Lebanese Pounds: "This the equivalent of an average salary," says Father Raymond.

In fact, along the shopping malls one store out of two has closed down. Luxury clothes stores have given way to second-hand shops and bars and restaurants are desolately empty. At night, streets are dark as there is no electricity for public lighting. Shops are lit by private collective generators running on diesel fuel, which does not help pollution and exhalations have made the air unbreathable.

The State seems no longer able to provide basic services such as healthcare and education. Families have to turn to the private sector for these services and pay in dollars, "which is unthinkable for people who have lost everything”, Father Raymond says.

“I never imagined we would arrive  at  this point!", the priest laments, noting  there must be an explanation to all this: " I am under the impression that it’s all orchestrated to push  people away from Lebanon, especially Christians”, he says

Material and spiritual support to families

The Carmelites of Beirut see many families who come over  to tell them they are leaving. Although helpless, Father Raymond is doing all he can to stop them and to promote solidarity giving them back some hope. 

“We need to assist all these people. Personally, I do my best to provide material and spiritual help, not so much to convince these people, rather to help them not to lose hope, to have the courage to say: ‘yes, we can go on here’”, says Father Raymond. “But it isn’t easy when people are in total despair”, he admits.

In the three schools run by the Carmelites, the priority is to ensure the salaries of the some 200 teachers and employees are paid. Also, the community hosts a few families who have lost everything.

“We have to protect people. Jobs and salaries need to be provided for, as well as additional help, as a salary is not sufficient to survive”, says Father Raymond who, with the Discalced Carmelites of Beirut, provides spiritual support and dedicates time to listen to families.

"I believe this is the only thing we have, our faith and our love for people, for our Lord Jesus Christ",  he sighs: "We have nothing else. Money? We have very little and it’s running out while our faith is inexhaustible”.

23 December 2021, 10:44