“Where were you when the blast happened?” It’s a new question added to the plethora of salutations and well wishes that usually season conversation here in Lebanon. The reference is, of course, to the Beirut blast which happened six months ago at 6:07pm. Forgive the specificity, one of our clocks stopped ticking at the moment of the blast and we haven’t yet replaced it.
In a few seconds, carelessly stored ammonium nitrate at the city’s port devastated Beirut in a way that decades of civil war could not. More than two hundred people perished, thousands were injured, and an entire city sunk into a pit of shock and anger.
When I arrived, a few weeks after the explosion, I witnessed a post-apocalyptic scene of shattered glass and strewn debris. Yet, there have also been many invisible wounds. In my work with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), I’ve listened to our psychologists and social workers tell stories of traumatised children who refuse to sleep next to windows. I’ve seen grown men and women crouch in fear at the sound of thunder. Many of the Palestinian and Syrian refugees (estimated at 170,000 and 1 million respectively), live in areas badly damaged by the blast.
It’s from this vantage point that I’ve been listening to Pope Francis’s calls to grow in fraternity, especially via Fratelli Tutti and the various overtures that he has made towards those of other religious faiths. Indeed, Pope Francis notes that his 2019 meeting with the Imam of the Al-Azhar mosque in Abu Dhabi served partly as the inspiration of Fratelli Tutti.
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Ryan Birjoo SJ is a Jesuit scholastic currently working with Jesuit Refugee Service. He loves learning about the twists and turns that people take in their journeys of faith and the diversity of religious experiences. He appreciates the plurality of cultures within the Church, with a special affection for the churches of the Christian East. These days, he is thinking a lot about the meaning of reconciliation. Random things he enjoys include: giant bowls of popcorn, stargazing, and learning the ukulele.
With thanks to The Jesuit Post, published by America Media, and Ryan Birjoo SJ, where this article originally appeared.