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Archives Diocese begins twinning initiative with Diocese of Lattakia in Syria
Solidarity in Faith: the first steps

April 19, 2017

By Mary Lou Kilian

As Bishop Terry R. LaValley announced that the Diocese of Ogdensburg would undertake a twinning initiative Syriawith the Diocese of Lattakia, Syria, at the April 6 Chrism Mass, early efforts were underway to insure its success.

The bishop had appointed Father Steven Murray, pastor of Holy Family Church in Watertown, to chair an advisory committee for Solidarity in Faith “to provide concrete ways for the faithful of our diocese to learn about the richness of the culture of Lattakia and the gift of the strong faith of those who suffer so much.”

The first people Father Murray invited to join the committee have roots in Syria and Lebanon. 

Dr. Nidal Makhoul of Plattsburgh and four members from the Watertown area: Dr. Marlene and Cyril Mouaikel, Dr. Marylene Duah and Christine Palumbo, will be working to promote the twinning process throughout the diocese.

Father Murray’s initial research took him to a Parish Partnership Manual provided by Catholic Relief Services. “While the information concerns ‘parish twinning’ rather than ‘diocesan twinning’ I believe the same principles Twinning Diocesewould apply,” Father Murray said.  (See box)

At the Chrism Mass, Bishop LaValley quoted from an email he received from Bishop Antoine Chbeir, his counterpart in Lattakia.

Located on the Mediterranean Sea in the northeastern part of Syria, parts of Lattakia are relatively calm. That means that there has been a large influx of Christians and Muslim refugees from Damascus, Aleppo and all parts of the country.

“This is why so many displaced families have already sought refuge in it, fleeing zones of conflict” Bishop Chbeir wrote, “and for this reason the relief efforts and pastor work doubled, with the same very thin and poor means and tools.”

Many of the pastoral goals in the diocese of Lattakia match those of Ogdensburg: catechism for children and adults, formation of catechists, biblical formation of families and marriage preparation.

But the Syrian bishop must also provide education for refugees, oversee psychological rehabilitation for people traumatized by war and dialogue between different faith groups of Syrian society.

However, Bishop Chbeir, emphasized, “there is a French saying ‘starved stomachs have no ears.’ For this reason my first and foremost preoccupation is displaced people, those who arrive in the diocese out of the blue, especially Christians who refuse to settle in refugee camps.”

As Bishop LaValley said, “This Syrian diocese has set up relief programs that try to provide them with clothes, shelter, shoes, mattresses, covers, assistance for medications, food, sanitary items, milk and diapers.  Bishop Antoine says that he could narrate hundreds of stories of truly desperate and terrified families approaching him and the Church for assistance.”

Bishop LaValley immediately sent a check to Bishop Chbeir and fundraising discussions have begun in the diocese.

But writing a series of checks will not be the only focus of the new relationship with Lattakia. Following the direction of Catholic Relief Services, Father Murray expects that the Diocese of Ogdensburg will emphasize relationships as well as resources and work towards mutuality and equality, “seeking to give and receive, learn and teach.

Voicing the consensus of his committee, he said, “These are the oldest Christians on earth; their strength of faith and courage in face of persecution ought to inspire all of us.”

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