He has such an easy contact that you feel in a few minutes that we have known each other forever. Gabriel Khairallah is like this, voluble, generous, whole. When we find him at the Center Saint-Joseph, in Beirut, of which he is the director (read box), he hastens to show us the room where the packed lunches are prepared. Here, 1,200 trays are distributed each week, mainly to isolated elderly people. Added to this are 900 food parcels. A figure that has been increasing since 2020 against the backdrop of an ever-worsening economic and financial crisis. More than 80% of the population have fallen into poverty.
Like the vast majority of Lebanese, Father Gabriel, 54, does not escape this complicated daily life. “My concern is to pay salaries, find medicines. We went into survival mode, ”he explains, describing a people caught in the emergency, unable to think and plan, paralyzed by the fear of tomorrow. For the Franco-Lebanese, this permanent instability is one of the reasons which explain the silence of the population, which has ceased to express its anger in the street.
priest and revolutionary
The time of the 2019 revolution – which had failed – seems far away. At the time, the priest ran from rally to rally when he was not organizing debates with other professors from Saint Joseph University in tents erected in the center of Beirut. On August 8, 2020, four days after the double explosion that disfigured the capital, the people again shouted their anger in the street. Gabriel Khairallah is then among the demonstrators. “One of the soldiers, seeing me, said: ‘Father, what are you doing alongside these thugs?'” he says. “These thugs, I replied, are the youth who yesterday cleared the streets of Beirut, the same ones who repaired the damage that the State, through its negligence, had caused.”
Gabriel Khairallah is not a silent man. This is undoubtedly his way of reaffirming his freedom, to which he has been viscerally attached since the civil war, which began in 1975 and lasted more than fifteen years. As a high school student, he had passed his French baccalaureate in a shelter under the bombardments. Quite a symbol when you know that the Jesuit sees literature as a tool for emancipation. “Freedoms are being restricted in Lebanon,” he laments. It has always been a country of refuge for minorities, where intellectual debate was possible. Christians fear that Lebanon will lose this identity, that it will no longer be this nation turned towards the West.”
On a daily basis, the priest maintains this freedom, in particular by welcoming parents of homosexual people who have come to confide in his office. He is not one of those who looks at the world with blinkers. And he observes with a certain curiosity the evolutions of society, avoiding any moralizing judgement. A world where his literature students at Saint-Joseph University in Beirut and at Sciences-Po help him understand changes. You have to listen to him talk about this youth who calls him “Monsieur” as well as “my father”. The professor’s face then lights up and we understand how much she nourishes him, shakes him up and constitutes an antidote against certainties.