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Bishop Antoine Chbeir shares the story of his Syrian diocese with the church of northern New York

Dec. 20, 2017


By Deacon Kevin Mastellon Chbeir
and Mary Lou Kilian

From Watertown to Ogdensburg and Plattsburgh Bishop Antoine Chbeir shared the story of the church in Latakia, Syria, with priests, deacons, children, reporters and groups of the faithful across the North Country.

Bishop Chbeir is the Eparch of The Maronite Catholic Eparchy of Latakia, a diocese of the Eastern Rite of the Catholic Church.

From Dec. 10 to 18, Bishop Chbeir toured the Diocese of Ogdensburg at the invitation of Bishop Terry R. LaValley.

At the Chrism Mass this past April 6, Bishop LaValley announced an initiative to provide spiritual and monetary support to the Syrian Diocese.  Bishop LaValley said the twinning of the dioceses was to give the people of the North Country “a deeper appreciation of the remarkable faith of people who have suffered so much giving witness to the same faith as ours.”

Civil war struck Syria in 2011. Originally the effort was to oust the Assad family which has run Syria since 1971.  The war has become more complicated in motive and more violent since it started.

Bishop Chbeir began his visit in Watertown with a visit to Immaculate Heart Central School, and Mass at the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse. The congregation was mostly priests, deacons and religious from the Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence deaneries.  

Bishop Chbeir spoke in his homily at the Motherhouse about being Christian even to those who do not share our faith.  "Because when you are Christian, you can not only think of yourself, but you'll go out of yourself to meet Chbeirespecially the people who are in difficulties, in need."

In Ogdensburg, Bishop Chbeir met a group of Catholic school children at the Bishop’s house and then preached at a Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral.

“Last month we had a meeting in Damascus, the capital of Syria, for the Syrian Catholic bishops,” he told the congregants. “We chose Damascus because it is bombed every day and for three days, we were bombed every day.

“I’m saying so because sometimes we are not aware of the gifts and graces that the Lord has given us…and we may take everything for granted,” Bishop Chbeir said. “When I found you have power every day, it’s a little bit weird to me. When I find respect for the law and discipline, it is also a little bit weird to me.”

“When I see the way the priests are serving the people and their parishes and the love the faithful have for their priests, I found it very beautiful,” he said, “and I, myself have been feeling a lot of love and affection wherever I go.

Chbeir“I would like to thank Your Excellency for everything you are doing for us, for the twinning, for the help you are giving to us, even before knowing each other, he said. “You made me remember when I was first ordained a bishop. I knew about being a bishop of a diocese but a bishop is not just for his diocese but he’s bishop of the church and has to serve the whole church all over the world.

“Because you are Christian, you are helping another diocese that is on the other end of the planet,” Bishop Chbeir said. “Jesus is uniting us in love and in faith. That’s why you are always in our thoughts, our prayers
In Plattsburgh, the two bishops concelebrated Mass at Seton Catholic Central School.

Bishop LaValley told the students, teachers and community members, "this isn't a one-time thing. This is a relationship that continues to blossom, that continues to move forward,".

The relationship between the two dioceses began as a response to Pope Francis' call to help families and Christian communities remain in their native lands.

But that's something Bishop Chbeir said many Syrian families cannot do.

"In Syria, we have very bad and tough times. Our people suffer a lot, “he said. “We have a lot of dead people, injured, handicapped, orphans and widows.

“We pray for peace in Syria and all over the world," he said.

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