August 4 should have been the happiest day in the life of Jad, a young Lebanese man. For it was the day when his wife Christelle gave birth to their first son, Nabil, in St. George’s Hospital, in Beirut.
Their happiness lasted just fifteen minutes. For at 6.07 p.m. 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded in Hanger 13 in the nearby port of Beirut. Over 200 people died and more than 6,500 were wounded. “Everything flew through the air; I thought war had broken out. My first thought was for my wife and child. It was a miracle. When I see the cradle in which Nabil was lying, I can only give thanks to God. It was directly beneath the shattered window, covered in shards of glass that had bored into the blankets like small lances. But Nabil was completely unscathed, untouched,” says the 32-year-old teacher to the Aid to the Church in Need Foundation.
Jad took the uninjured child into his arms – and marveled. Something similar must have happened in the stable of Bethlehem, around 300 km to the south of Beirut when Joseph first set eyes on the newborn Child. At that time, two thousand years ago, God was also protecting the newborn child. But St. George’s Orthodox Hospital, the oldest and one of the three largest hospitals in the country, was almost completely wrecked. Christelle had to be taken with Nabil to another hospital 50 miles (80 km) away.
Those were hard and challenging moments for this young father. They changed his whole life, just as Saint Joseph’s life was changed when, after being warned by the angel in a dream, he took the Child and his Mother that very night and fled into Egypt (cf. Matt 2:14).
“The explosion has changed my life”, says Jad to ACN during a visit of the Charity to Beirut. Despite all the difficulties, he says he has worked and fought to build the country “which I love”. “But”, he adds with dismay, “in order to remain, we need security and the feeling that someone cares about us Christians. We feel quite alone, abandoned, forgotten.”
The destruction is almost beyond belief. 300,000 people were directly affected by the explosion, which particularly devastated the Christian quarter of the city. Thousands are wondering how they are going to survive the winter. Again, Beirut reminds us of Bethlehem, where there was no inn for God on the first Christmas. The social, economic, and political crisis in Lebanon had already plunged the country into deep poverty. In the midst of all that darkness, Jad remembers every day the miracle of the birth of his firstborn: “I say to our child again and again, ‘You are alive because Christ has saved you. Your mother and I were both injured, but you didn’t receive a scratch. Never forget that. Jesus was with you at that moment. Have no fear, He will always be with you’.”
The three Wise Men brought the Child in Bethlehem gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. What gift does Jad wish for his child? The young father answers without hesitation: “Peace, security – and the strength to bear the cross of Christ. For being close to Christ means shouldering his cross. My son has lived that reality since the fifteenth minute of his life, and we Christians in Lebanon know this all too well. We have lived through wars and persecutions. We are alive because we have a mission to fulfill. We must bear witness to Christ. That is what the cross entails.”