A prominent Lebanese cardinal has insisted that the church has a "duty" to help Beirut's citizens following this week's deadly blast that has claimed the lives of at least 157 people.
In a statement, Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch said: “Beirut is a devastated city. A catastrophe struck there because of the mysterious explosion which occurred in its port."
Authorities believe that the explosion was caused by a shipment of the fertilizer ammonium nitrate which had been stored at Beirut's dock after being confiscated from a passing cargo ship.
Thousands were injured in the blast, with the powerful shockwave blowing out windows, destroying buildings and damaging infrastructure across the city. Christians, are responding to the immediate need - but they need more help from outside organisations. "The Church, which has set up a relief network throughout Lebanese territory, today finds itself faced with a new great duty which it is unable to assume on its own," Rai added.
“[The Church stands] in solidarity with the afflicted, the families of the victims, the wounded, and the displaced that it is ready to welcome in its institutions."
Shortly after the blast, Christian aid organisation Samaritan's Purse announced it would be sending a team of humanitarian relief specialists to the city. "Working with a longtime church partner in the area, we are evaluating how we can best serve, potentially in the areas of emergency food, shelter, and medical care," the group said in an announcement.
"The country and the people are devastated,” added Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham. “Please pray for the families who lost loved ones and those who have been most impacted by this horrible incident.”
Speaking to Premier earlier this week, one pastor in Beirut said he was grateful to God that no one was in his church building at the time of the blast, as the premises was obliterated by the explosion's shockwave.
"I thank God no one was here because if it would be anyone here they would be dead because the windows flew from the side, from one wall to another wall, and took everything in between - the curtains, the air conditioning, the tables, the computers, the televisions," said Said Deeb of the 'Life Center' in Beirut.
"The church [is] without curtains, without windows, without doors. The cameras fell down, broke the TV screens - some of them still working - four or five big screens broke. The apartment of the church is without gates, without windows. You see holes in the wall, big holes but no metal, no aluminium, nothing. All the frames were removed."