Hundreds of Lebanese Christians gathered in the stone courtyard of Beirut’s Mar Maroun church after Easter Sunday’s mass to exchange greetings and share treats that have become a luxury for most in the country.
Amid a deepening economic crisis that has plunged three-quarters of the population into poverty, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, with exchanges of flowers, chocolate eggs and pastries, provided a rare moment of shared joy.
“With all the misery in Lebanon, Easter is a moment of self-reflection where we feel it’s important to love one another,” said Berna Mezher, a bank teller who attended mass with her husband and three children.
As she spoke, she sprayed her sons’ fingers with disinfectant before they reached for the traditional pistachio-filled pastry called maamoul, which volunteers had placed on tables outside the church.
Next to her was her daughter holding flowers. “They come from the tomb of Christ and have been blessed,” Ms. Mezher explained. “When the fair is over, everyone takes one home.”
The model of the tomb, placed at the back of the church, was created by Jihad Asmar, 60, who draped it with orange and white curtains and wrapped olive tree branches around it.
Mr. Asmar got up at a Maamoul table and distributed the pastries to the faithful, who greeted each other with the traditional saying “Christ is risen”.
“We serve people with love,” he said when one woman pondered which Maamoul she wanted.
18 months ago, Mr. Asmar lost his job in quick succession due to Lebanon‘s economic collapse and his mother. The former company boss is now a municipal employee and also volunteers in distributing food to the poor.
“There is a lot of generosity. We have to stand by the people. The country is in deep crisis,” he said.
Each month, the group he volunteers with distributes food packages and cleaning products to 200 families and provides about 150 meals a day to people who are too old or ill to leave their homes. The group, called Drama and Miracles, is funded by private donations and was formed after the Beirut port explosion on August 4, 2020 devastated neighborhoods near the church.
Mr. Asmar has found joy in his new role.
“I love it when I call people who come by on Mondays to pick up their grocery box,” he said. “They tell me nice things like, ‘May God bless you, may your life continue on this path.’ I find it very touching.”
At Easter, the food boxes also contained Maamoul. “They are very expensive. People can’t afford them,” Mr Asmar said.
Food prices have skyrocketed since the economic crisis hit Lebanon in 2019, a trend that has accelerated with the impact of the war in Ukraine on sunflower oil and wheat exports.
The inflation rate of food and non-alcoholic beverages for the period from December 2018 to October 2021 was 2,067 percent, official statistics show.
Few expect respite from the country’s political class, which is widely seen as corrupt and dysfunctional.
“Politicians only care about what’s in their own pockets,” Ms Mezher said. “Maybe four years from now, when my kids are grown, things will get better,” she said. Her youngest son interrupted her to ask for a chocolate egg.
“Everything is tough in Lebanon, but we’re going to keep at it because we hope it will go back to how it used to be. It’s just a hope. I don’t think it’s going to happen,” she continued.
Ms Mezher believes she and her husband, 55, are too old to emigrate. “But I think they will go,” she said, nodding towards her children.
Updated April 17, 2022 2:42 p.m