Lebanon: Generators that save people and the environment

In a country suffering from a severe economic, political and social crisis, still in need of humanitarian aid, the Church continues to be a sign of hope. Inspired by Laudato si’, a group of Maronite monks helps the locals and the environment with an energy efficiency project developed by them.

By Cecilia Seppia

Thirty kilometres north of Beirut, Lebanon, far from the busyness of the capital, lies the Mar Nohra Monastery of the Antonin Maronite Order. The monks live in perennial harmony with creation in a place of worship that was abandoned for centuries and then renovated just a few years ago. The walls are imbued with history and spirituality, and the place is helping promote new vocations to religious life. Mar Nohra is located close to the well-known Shrine of Our Lady of Harissa, dominating the surrounding landscape from a 600-metre hill and overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in a 23-hectare area completely covered in oak trees, pines, and cedars, also with an area farmed as a vegetable garden.

Many animal species have found their habitat here and live their days undisturbed alongside the people. Seeing this ideal and especially 'green' oasis, one would think everything is fine, but even this monastery is suffering from the effects of the serious economic crisis affecting Lebanon since 2019. The year before the Covid pandemic the Lebanese currency lost more than 90 per cent of its purchasing value.

The economic meltdown marks one of the worst ever since 1850, resulting from political instability and ongoing conflicts. Some four million families have fallen into poverty as a result. And as the economy plummets, prices of basic necessities have skyrocketed due to inflation hitting over 138%. More and more people find themselves having to choose between paying the rent or buying food, water, and medicine to survive.  The local Caritas is crowded with the so-called 'new poor', Lebanese workers who belonged previously to the upper-middle class. Today sometimes even teachers or doctors can be found seeking anything of use in the rubbish bins. Among other drastic measures, the government has opted for rationing gas, electricity, and in some places even drinking water, giving the population only one hour of electricity per day.

Outside the monastery of Mar Nohra
Outside the monastery of Mar Nohra

Persevering in their mission

The Monastery has also suffered from this dire reality. For energy needs, the monks must buy electricity from people with privately-owned power generators who are now also struggling to find diesel fuel and pay the huge price increases, over and above the maintenance costs of the generators themselves.

The situation has urgently required turning to renewable energy sources and implementing energy efficiency measures for the entire facility through the installation and use of solar panels and latest generation boilers. "Work has already begun and seems to be proceeding well," Fr. Maged Maroun, Procurator General of the Antonin Maronite Order (O.A.M.) and rector of St. Isaiah College, said in an interview with Vatican News and L'Osservatore Romano.

The bursar's office of the Order is covering ten percent of the project costs, while most of the funding has been provided by ROACO, (the Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches), a charitable organization under the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches. "I spent the last two weeks in Lebanon and visited the Mar Nohra Monastery for a few days,” Father Maroun continues, “and I could see with my own eyes that it is impossible to go on like this. For everyone, for people who cannot make ends meet, for future generations, and also for the brothers.

The idea for this project came about for several reasons. First, to guarantee the mission of the monastery itself: I am referring to the religious mission, but also the pastoral and educational ones. The monastery currently welcomes both student monks during their diaconate year, and lay people for spiritual retreats or training experiences. There is also an important school of iconography. You know that in eastern iconography, icons, icon writing, the theology behind iconographic art, and the spirituality associated with them, are really very important. Also, the monks are dedicated to the education and training of young people to pass on to them the religious and ancient heritage of this country and of being Christian. Finally, they have agricultural activities by farming land independently and feeding themselves from it, according to an equally ancient practice of producing food through the work of their own hands.

The monastery cannot live without water and electricity, so, given the drastic rationing implemented by the state, we thought of an alternative energy source in order to survive and to help the people who ask for our assistance so they may learn, pray, and feel better. We want to start a 'saving generator' for the people and the environment, and the choice of renewable energy sources is the only one possible and necessary, also because here in this predominantly Mediterranean climate sunlight is almost never lacking.”

A glimpse of the renovated building at the Mar Nohra monastery
A glimpse of the renovated building at the Mar Nohra monastery

Interconnected lives

The Procurator General of the O.A.M. reflects on the help the Church is giving in this context of grave crisis and adds, “in following its social doctrine, the Church has always been close to the people, both spiritually and also materially. Also, in reading what Pope Francis clearly expresses in Laudato si' and Fratelli tutti, in recent times we are becoming even more interconnected and close, so we are further committed to important issues such as the environment. We have all realized the importance of finding energy sources that do not pollute or harm the planet, but can instead improve the quality of life and show respect for our common home. In addition to local churches and monasteries, schools and universities are also trying to find funding and the means to produce clean, sustainable energy”.

As Christians, Father Maroun says we cannot neglect the well-being and care for the entire human person. "I mean the mental, spiritual but also material well-being of everyone and their health. And today more than ever we are convinced we can only survive in harmony with creation, with God’s home we are granted to inhabit along with all other animal and plant species. This is the idea of Pope Francis and also of the entire social doctrine of the Church. There is no respect for the human person without respect for the environment. Our monks have been trying for over 300 years to promote this culture, which is not only for the benefit of Christians, but for the good of all. The Pope calls upon all people of goodwill. We all need to breathe good air, drink uncontaminated water, wash, eat and live with dignity. We all need a healthy environment, but if we continue to destroy or despoil nature, we will be called to account for it. We see it with earthquakes, natural disasters, and even the pandemic. So, we continue a style of life, a monastic religious culture with these teachings strengthened by the words of the Pope.”

The mission of the monks
The mission of the monks

Solidarity and subsidiarity

Changing course, focusing on another way of life, educating about the alliance between humanity and the environment, preaching and implementing ecological conversion, encouraging creativity and the power of technology, sharing the principle of the common good; these are all themes found in Laudato si' that emerge in this initiative of the monks. But other important themes mentioned in Pope Francis' encyclical are solidarity and subsidiarity. Father Maroun insists on the latter concept and on the idea that everyone should be allowed to take responsibility in the healing processes of the societies in which they live. This is why the friars were happy to welcome this energy efficiency project financed by the Maronite Order and ROACO.

Together for a new future

During his General Audience on 23 September 2020, Pope Francis said: “To emerge better from a crisis, the principle of subsidiarity must be implemented, respecting everyone’s autonomy and capacity to take initiative, especially that of the least. All the parts of a body are necessary, as Saint Paul says, those that may seem the weakest and least important, in reality are the most necessary. In light of this image, we can say that the principle of subsidiarity allows everyone to assume his or her own role in the healing and destiny of society. Implementing it, implementing the principle of subsidiarity gives hope, it gives hope in a healthier and more just future; and we build this future together, aspiring to greater things, broadening our horizons. Either we do it together, or it will not work. Either we work together to emerge from the crisis, at all levels of society, or we will never emerge from it. To emerge from the crisis does not mean to varnish over current situations so that they might appear more just. No. To emerge from the crisis means to change, and true change is done by everyone, all the persons that form a people. All the professions, all of them. And everything together, everyone in the community. If everyone does not contribute, the result will be negative.”

In Mar Nohra, a small part of this future is being rewritten to alleviate the mistrust, frustration and fatigue that all Lebanese have been experiencing for far, far too long now.


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13 December 2022, 10:28