Christmas hope amid despair

Thursday, December 26, 2019 - Updated: 2:50 pm

By Doreen Abi Raad Catholic News Service

BEIRUT — Four-year-old Celine Khater, encouraged by her father, proudly offered the scouts a heavy grocery bag containing rice, pasta and cookies. It was a teachable moment for children to help the needy, replicated outside grocery stores around the world, but in Lebanon, the situation is especially dire.

Since massive anti-government uprisings began two months ago, banks have imposed limits on withdrawals and transfers of money abroad, the value of the Lebanese pound against the dollar has devalued and a reported 160,000 jobs were cut or temporarily suspended. Lebanon has a citizen population of approximately 4 million people, of whom about 40 percent are Christian. Even before the most recent crisis, 30 percent of Lebanese residents lived below the poverty line.

Three people committed suicide in the first two weeks of December as Lebanon continues to descend into its worst financial and economic crisis.

In an effort to brighten an otherwise bleak Christmas, the Maronite Girl Guides and Boy Scouts of St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Parish in Mtaileb, north of Beirut, initiated a food drive for the needy.

“We want to help people feel the joy of Christmas,” Sabine Bou Serhal, 22, a chief for the group, told Catholic News Service. “More and more people are poor.”

The weekend of Dec. 14-15, the Guides and Scouts carried out their project at two supermarkets, greeting customers, asking if they might also purchase some basic food items to help people in need.

“When we decided on this initiative, we worried that people would be reluctant to give. But thank God, people are helping us,” Bou Serhal told CNS.

Donations from individuals and families ranged from a single item to a few grocery bags. One shopper even left the store greeting the scouts with an overflowing grocery cart.

Maria Bou Serhal, a 12-year-old Girl Guide, shared with CNS that a lot of her classmates’ parents are losing their jobs.

“It’s sad. We have to keep praying. Only Jesus can help us. We should always pray and be thankful for what we have.”

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