ACN approves massive solar panel package to help Church in Lebanon and Syria face electricity crisis

As the world celebrates the 30th anniversary of World Sun Day on 3 May and to underscore the importance of renewable energy resources, Aid to the Church in Need is highlighting how solar panels are making a big difference in the lives of parishes, religious orders and institutions in countries where electricity costs have risen dramatically.

Solar panels support for 2 schools belonging to the "Soeurs missionnaires de Notre Dame des Apôtres" congregation
Emergency support for 2 schools belonging to the “Soeurs missionnaires de Notre Dame des Apôtres” congregation.

The crippling financial crisis that has affected Lebanon and Syria over the past few years has made life difficult for all citizens in many respects. Many commodities that used to be taken for granted have now become prohibitively expensive, including electricity. In Syria, prices recently increased by 500 percent.

In many parts of Lebanon, state-provided electricity is only available for about four hours a day, which means that people have to resort to very expensive fuel-powered generators. In Syria, the situation is worse, with between zero and three hours of electricity on the grid per day, depending on the region, and with generators, which are often run by mafia-like companies, being the only alternative. In some parts of the country, such as the capital Damascus and Homs, generators are mostly unavailable, leaving the population entirely reliant on the very limited supply of electricity from the state.

Naturally, this has a deep effect on Church activities. Parishes and communities are unable to provide services to their faithful, food-storage and heating are limited, and the rising prices are reflected in the cost of hosting groups for retreats or religious gatherings. This phenomenon also has an impact on the Church’s social activities: orphanages, nursing homes, schools, and kindergartens struggle to operate in the darkness. Food poisoning is rampant due to a lack of refrigeration.

Extension of the Solar panel system in the Pastoral Center in the Batroun Maronite Diocese
Extension of the Solar panel system in the Pastoral Center in the Batroun Maronite Diocese.

This is why the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has been funding a large package to help Church institutions to instal solar panels. Over the past few years, the organisation has approved over 60 projects in both Syria and Lebanon, worth more than 1.7 million dollars, and the result have been the return of both light and hope to the beneficiaries. A total of 24 religious congregations will be benefitting from these projects, as well as 37 parishes from 16 dioceses in both countries. Solar energy will also be reaching 11 convents and seven seminaries and novitiates, as well as 22 schools.

By switching from state-produced electricity and carbon-fuel based generators to solar power, these Church buildings are also providing an example of sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives, in line with the Holy See’s often stated concern with care for the common home.

“You are giving us the tools to build a future”

In Lebanon, for example, the Parish of St. Tekla in the neighbourhood of Kartaboun, Jbeil, used to pay 60 dollars every month for its electricity, but since the installation of solar panels the monthly bill is a mere three dollars, which means more money for the parish’s pastoral mission, Father Christian Gerges told ACN.

The sisters of the Congregation of the Holy Family also explain that much has changed with the solar panels. “The state provides one or two hours of electricity a day, but it’s very expensive. We used to have a cold room and three fridges, but now we only have one. We used to have to pay a subscription to the generator, which cost us 30 dollars, plus expenses of between 300 and 400 dollars, but now with the solar panels it is down to 6 dollars, and for the autumn months it was nothing at all, so we’ve saved a lot”, says Sister Yaout.

School of the "Soeurs missionnaires de Notre Dame des Apôtres" congregation (ACN supported them with solar panels)
Emergency support including scholarships for 130 students, stipends for 163 teachers, and solar panels.

The sisters work especially with intellectually disabled people, and the savings on electricity mean that they can now charge groups less for staying at the convent’s guesthouse, proving that the benefits of the solar panel projects shine out, like rays of light, to the wider Christian community.

Another example comes from Zgharta, where the Antonine congregation runs Mar Antonios school. During a recent visit, one student told ACN that “these new solar panels are really going to change our daily lives. They will enable us to understand our lessons better. It’s like you’re giving us the tools to build our future, and we’re really grateful.”

A teacher added: “The situation is complicated, we are suffering from the crisis, but a big thank you to ACN for everything you have done. Obviously, the presence of solar panels has changed a lot of things, particularly in terms of teaching. We now have electricity for the digital blackboards, and we can teach in better conditions.”

ACN will continue to support solar panel projects to help the Church continue its mission in some of the neediest regions of the world, by providing viable and sustainable energy solutions.

 

By Filipe d’Avillez.

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