Mar 1, 2023
Only a few hours after Bassel Habkouk, a young Lebanese Catholic and father of two, arrived for a visit in Turkey on Feb. 6, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country and nearby Syria.
Habkouk found himself trapped underneath the rubble of fallen buildings for 52 hours as a result of the devastating earthquake, which killed more than 50,000 people and injured many more with tens of thousands still missing and hundreds of thousands homeless, according to the Associated Press.
Miraculously, Habkouk survived, and he recently shared with ACI MENA, CNA’s Arabic-language news partner, details of his ordeal and the role the Virgin Mary played in it.
Trapped for more than two days
Habkouk was out with his good friend, Elias Al-Haddad, when the earthquake hit. The pair fell to the ground after debris fell on them.
“Elias Al-Haddad spoke to me after the accident and asked for my help, but I was unable to move and help,” Habkouk recalled. “After about six hours, I no longer heard his voice.”
Sadly, Al-Haddad did not survive, and Habkouk’s own journey to survival began.
“I stayed under the rubble for 52 hours, becoming stuck in a block about 2 meters long and 40 centimeters wide,” he recounted. “Exposed to the cold air without knowing where it came from, I did not feel hungry or thirsty, although I still had some food in my possession.”
Habkouk considered the most difficult moment under the rubble was when the rescue team contacted him in the evening of the second day.
“I found a plastic pipe about a meter long, and used it to hit the debris around me, signaling to the rescuers to know where I was,” he said, but after knowing his location, they rescued another man beside him who was calling out in pain.
After five hours of relief work that continued until 2 a.m. the next day, the rescue of the other man was complete and the rescue workers left. Habkouk feared they would leave him stranded because he is not a Turkish citizen.
From 2 to 7 a.m. Habkouk, once again alone, clung to his will and began to think of alternate ways to escape.
The rosary and the Virgin Mary
Habkouk described his first moments under the rubble and his immediate prayer: “When the rubble fell on me, I fell to the ground, crying out from the bottom of my heart: O MARY!”
“I continued to call the Virgin Mary for the next 40 seconds until the earthquake stopped,” he continued. “Then I prayed the rosary from under the rubble. God protected me, and the Virgin Mary did not leave me.”
Habkouk said prayer gave him the power to resist despair and strengthened his faith that he would be rescued.
Fifty-two hours after he became trapped, at 7 a.m. on Feb. 8, Habkouk was rescued by a Turkish security team.
After 52 hours under the rubble left by the devastating Feb. 6, 2023, earthquake in Turkey, Bassel Habkouk was rescued by a Turkish Security team. Photo courtesy of Bassel Habkouk
A vow to Our Lady of Mantara
Habkouk said this was not the first time he and his family have turned to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“Since childhood, I was raised according to the traditions of my village, Maghdouché,” he said. “There I was taught the importance of Catholic holidays (Christmas, Easter, the birthday of the Virgin Mary, etc.) … I believe in the Lord and I have sought the intercession of his mother, the Virgin Mary, in the course of my life.”
“The people of Maghdouché used to make the sign of the cross whenever they left the village, saying to her: On you we place our hope, O Mother of God! And then on they went, trusting in the Lord through the intercession of Mary, and thanking her for her care for them, especially during difficult journeys.”
Habkouk also mentioned his mother’s love for God, Mary, and the saints. Every morning, he said, she goes to the shrine of Our Lady of Mantara and asks for Mary’s intercession and for her to protect her children.
“When the devastating earthquake occurred,” he said, “she promised the Virgin Mary that if her son returned from Turkey safely, she would descend barefoot from the village to the shrine of Our Lady of Mantara, and she would enter with me crawling to the cave. And she fulfilled her promise after I returned home.”
For Habkouk, words cannot describe his extreme happiness upon returning to Lebanon and his massive reception amid the ringing of bells, cheers, and ululations.
“The joy of the people of Maghdouché is indescribable, and I am grateful for the love of everyone who showered us with it, despite their different sects,” he said.
This story was first published by ACI MENA, CNA’s Arabic-language news partner, and has been adapted by CNA.
By Guitta Maroun, managing editor of ACI MENA, based in Lebanon.