6 July 2017
Father Elias Ibrahim serves Syrian families at the Table of St. John the Merciful in Lebanon.
(photo: Raed Rafei)
The current edition of ONE offers this glimpse at life among Syrian refugees struggling to make a new life in Lebanon:
Even though many Syrian families say they feel generally welcome in Zahleh, local communities routinely express their exasperation with refugees. The stagnant economic situation, the protracted refugee crisis and grudges stemming from the Lebanese civil war — during which Syrian troops laid siege to Zahleh for three months — exacerbate tensions between the two communities.
“We encourage reconciliation initiatives to ease the tension between the Lebanese and the Syrians,” says Michel Constantin, regional director for CNEWA, which provides assistance to refugees and those in need from the host communities through the local churches.
One of these initiatives is a soup kitchen called the Table of St. John the Merciful, named after the seventh-century patriarch of Alexandria famed for never turning away a supplicant. Founded by the church a year ago, this program offers hot meals from Monday to Friday to nearly 350 refugees, as well as poor Lebanese citizens. People from around the city volunteer to staff the kitchen, which receives food from a large number of restaurants, bakeries and more prosperous local families.
On a recent Sunday, the Table received Syrian refugee families after the Divine
Liturgy, offering chicken, meat, rice and salad as well as pizza for the children. Those at the gathering enjoyed music, dancing and even, for those of age, a bit of their favorite beverage. Such small comforts mean much to people in need, whether exiled from home or not — bringing a measure of cheer and a much-needed reprieve from their many worries.
“The aim is not only to serve food but to create lasting bonds and harmony among the people here,” said the Rev. Elias Ibrahim, a priest of the cathedral parish. Father Ibrahim oversees the operations of the center and serves also as a spiritual counselor for refugees.
Read more in the current edition of the magazine — and check out the exclusive video on refugees in Lebanon below.