ORLANDO, Fla. – After the massive explosion that rocked the Lebanese capital of Beirut and left more than 130 people dead and thousands injured, a church in downtown Orlando is doing its part to get much-needed aid to those affected.
“If the world community doesn’t help, I don’t see how they’ll ever rebuild it because the economy is collapsed,” Father John Hamatie, pastor of St. George Orthodox Church in Orlando, said. “We’re not gonna be sending an aid package of clothing and food; there’s plenty of food in Lebanon, there’s no money. Please, if you have any feeling for people send the money. We need the money to send to them.”
Since the explosion, Hamatie has been keeping a close eye on how to help the Middle Eastern country, a place close to his heart that he’s been visiting since 1971.
“I go there every year OK. I’ve been going to Lebanon...see, I’m sorry,” the New York native said almost in tears.
His love for Lebanon comes from his grandparents who emigrated to the United States from there before he was born.
“It’s tragic and you know what? Excuse me, I get emotional, but Beirut, you know, used to be known as the Paris of the Middle East. If anybody ever went to Beirut, they would know what I’m talking about.”
A city close to his heart now in ruins after the powerful blast left more than 100 people dead and thousands wounded. Homes and churches were leveled.
“We have the only orthodox hospital in the world, the St. George Hospital in Beirut on the par of the Mayo Clinic. I mean top-notch, 70% of it has been destroyed,” Hamatie said. “This was felt in Cypress 150 miles away. It was felt in Amman, Jordan which is over 200 like an earthquake.”
After the explosion, he received photographs of the aftermath from inside St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Beirut -- debris everywhere in a country already on the verge of a financial crisis. Hamatie is now collecting donations for the victims.
"Our archdiocese is collecting. We have 350 parishioners in America so they're all collecting for the money to be sent and it will go straight to Beirut. The Orthodox Church is non-sectarian; we don't just give money to people of our own religion," he said. "It is such a pleasant city, it's such a wonderful place to go. The scenery, the people of all different backgrounds. It really is a tragedy and I pray that they can rebuild."
To make a donation, Hamatie asks a check be mailed out to St. George Orthodox Church 24 N. Rosalind Ave., Orlando, 32801 and make sure to write in the memo line “Beirut.”
On Sunday, a memorial service at 10 a.m. will be held in honor of the victims of Beirut.