MEMBERS of the Arabic-speaking and international Anglican communities in Beirut escaped largely unharmed from the massive explosion last week, in which more than 200 people were killed and many thousands were left injured and homeless (News,7 August). Also, the congregation’s church itself, All Saints’, was miraculously undamaged, even though it is situated close to the port where the store of chemicals exploded.
The Rector, the Ven. Imad Zoorob, who is the Archdeacon over Lebanon and Syria, said that he was unable to reach the church on the day of the blast. The next day, however, he discovered that the church hall, in the basement, had been badly damaged; as had the vestry on the ground floor, where windows had been broken and books and garments lay among the broken glass.
“When I entered the church itself,” he continued, “I couldn’t believe my eyes. Nothing was broken — not the glass chandeliers, not even the stained-glass windows. It was clean, no dust. Thank God. Really, it was a miracle.”
Over recent years, huge office blocks have been constructed around All Saints’, and the theory is that these protected the small church from the main force of the explosion. “These buildings had reinforced security-glass windows, but that didn’t stop them all being shattered by the explosion,” Archdeacon Zoorob said. “It’s amazing how we escaped.”
A member of the All Saints’ pastoral committee, Carol Isaac-Hamdan, said that the homes of many members of the congregation had been damaged, and some people had had to be treated for cuts caused by smashed windows. An elderly couple were moved from their wrecked flat to stay with relatives, she said, “but, on the whole, we were lucky compared with so many others in Beirut. We are safe, but we are shaken. We need lots of prayers to help us gather our strength again.”
Mrs Isaac-Hamdan was in a hairdresser’s when the explosion happened. “I saw the window buckle, but it didn’t break,” she said. “I peeked outside and saw stuff flying around. It was like a zombie movie. Dogs were limping because their paws were cut by glass. I had no idea what was going on.”
The foundation stone for All Saints’ was laid in 1912 on a site between the Corniche seafront and Beirut port. But construction was delayed by the First World War, and the building was not consecrated until 1929. During the 15 years of civil war, up to 1990, the church lay on one of the main confrontation lines, and was therefore inaccessible. It was reconsecrated in 1992.