Roman Catholic 
Diocese of Ogdensburg

Solidarity in Faith

“The persecution of Christians and ethnic and religious minorities in many parts of the world,especially in the Middle East,are a great trial not only for the Church but also the entire international community. Every effort should be encouraged,even in a practical way,to assist families and Christian communities to remain in their native lands.”- Pope Francis in the Joy of Love, #46

Solidarity in Faith:
our practical diocesan response
to the Holy Father’s call
to assist the suffering families and communities
in the Diocese of Latakia

The Diocese of Ogdensburg is setting out on a “twinning relationship” with the Diocese of Latakia, located in Syria. Bishop Antoine Chbeir who shepherds this Maronite Catholic Diocese of about 45,000 Catholics that has 30 parishes, 27 priests and 27 consecrated religious. War has wreaked havoc on the region.  In addition to normal pastoral activities, the Church in Latakia also must minister to thousands of displaces Syrians who seeking a safe refuge.

Watch Bishop LaValley's Announcement of Solidarity in Faith:

Syria is a country of many cultures and languages. Some variations for Latakia include Lattakia, 
Al Lādhiqīyah and اللاذقية.

What Can You Do?


Prayers of the Faithful for each Sunday of the Year.  The Solidarity in Faith Committee has composed prayers of the faithful to be prayed at Mass for each Sunday of the year. Pastors are encouraged to use these prayers or compose their own.

Prayer Cards to pray for Bishop Chbeir and the Diocese of Latakia

Bishop Chbeir's visit to our Diocese in December 2017

Bishop Chbeir visited the North Country from December 11-18, 2017  There were several events around the diocese where people were able to meet and greet Bishop Chbeir and learn more about the issues and struggles facing the Church in Latakia. CLICK HERE FOR VIDEOS OF BISHOP CHBEIR’S HOMILIES IN THE CATHEDRAL

Learn and Stay Informed

Learn more about the Diocese of Latakia and stay informed about the issues facing the people in the care of Bishop Chbeir HERE.

Where is Latakia and What are Some of the Issues?

From Bishop Chbeir's letter:

The Diocese of Latakia is composed for four provinces and covers about 20,000 square miles.  For comparison, the Diocese of Ogdensburg covers about 12,000 square miles.  The four provinces are Tartus, Latakia, Hama and Homs. Bishop Chbeir has been the Eparch (Maronite Bishop) since May of 2015.

Some of the challenges since the beginning:

  • An inflow of Christian and Muslim refugees from Damascus, Aleppo and all across Syria since Latakia is relatively calm (it "only" (!) had two car bombs and three suicide attacks over a period of seven months).
  • Few resources and tools to care for the refugees fleeing the conflict

Pastoral Activities are concentrated in the following areas:

See how similar we are!

  • Catechism for children and young adults
  • Formation for Catechists
  • Biblical Formation for families
  • Marriage Preparation workshops

But then there are these:

  • Education programs for refugees
  • Psychological rehabilitation programs for children, young people, women, and men traumatized by horrible scenes of war
  • Dialogue between different confessions of Syrian society: Catholic, Orthodox, Alouites, Sunnis, Shias, Yazidis, Druz...

Starving Stomachs Have No Ears

This French saying means that those whose basic human needs have not been met are not able to take advantage of the catechesis and formation that the Church offers.  Everything takes a back seat to survival and simply finding food for your children or medicine for a sick family member, or shelter from the element if you are homeless.So, the Diocese of Latakia has relief programs that assist refugees, as well as the local people whose money has lost most of its value because of the war.

The diocese offers basic assistance to the poor:

  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Milk
  • Diapers
  • Household goods such as blankets, mattresses, kitchen equipment

As well as special subsidies to assist with:

  • Rent (rental costs have skyrocketed since the influx of people creates a high demand for limited housing)
  • Heating
  • Medical Care (there is no insurance safety net)

God is Greater!

God has turned economic and existential disasters into a spiritual richness.

  • The Cathedral is packed to capacity on Sundays
  • There are socials after Mass with coffee
  • The Bishop’s house has a nice community with the Vicar General, a finance officer, three seminarians and two French teachers (so that the seminarians can go and study at seminary in Lebanon). This small community is able to pray the Liturgy of the Hours together and the rosary in the evening which brings great serenity and joy
  • There is hope for the future, hope to build schools

A community cannot be built on only humanitarian relief!

  • Syria needs to prepare for schools and foreign language study after the war – most Christians only speak Arabic which leaves them disconnected from the western cultures
  • The diocese supports it's priests who have stayed despite the war with spiritual, pastoral, cultural and financial support so that they can in turn minister to the people. Many of these priests survive on mass intentions sent from abroad (see our Pontifical Mission Society pages)

Go Deeper and Learn More

Maronite Church and Christianity in Syria
(from Bishop Chbeir’s letter to Fr. Murray)

The Maronite Church is linked to 4th century saint St. Maroun.  St. Maroun was a priest who became a hermit, retiring to the mountain of Taurus near Antioch.  His holiness and miracles attracted many followers and garnered attention from throughout the empire.  St. John Chrysostom sent a letter to St. Maroun around 405 AD expressing his great love and respect and asking Sr. Maroun to pray for him.

St. Maroun is considered the Father of the spiritual and monastic movement of the Maronite Church.  This movement has a profound influence on Northern Syria and Lebanon.  St. Maroun spent all of his life on a mountain in the region of Cyrrhus in Syria.  It is believe that the place was called Kefar-Nabo on the mountain of Ol-Yambos, making it the cradle of the Maronite movement.

St. Maroun’s way was deeply monastic with emphasis on the spiritual and ascetic aspects of living.  He embraced the quiet solitude of the mountain life. He lived his life in open air exposed to the forces of nature such as sun, rain, hail, and snow. His extraordinary desire to come to know God’s presence in all things allowed Sr. Maroun to transcend such forces and discover that intimate union with God.  He was able to free himself from the physical world by his passion and fervor for prayer and enter in to a mystical relationship of love with God.

St. Maroun was a mystic who started this new ascetic-spiritual method that attracted many people in Syria and Lebanon to become his disciples. Accompanying his deeply spiritual and ascetic life, he was a zealous missionary with a passion to spread the message of Christ by preaching it to all he met. He sought not only to cure the physical ailments that people suffered but has a great quest for nurturing and healing the “lost souls” of both pagans and Christians of his time.

This missionary work came to fruition when in the mountains of Syria, Sr. Maroun was able to convert a pagan temple into a Christian Church.  This was to be the beginning of the conversion of Paganism to Christianity in Syria which would then influence and spread to Lebanon. After his death in the year 410AS, his spirit and teaching lived on through his disciples.

Many Different Christian Rites

There is a richness and a diversity represented in the Christian mosaic in Syria. In addition to the Greek Orthodox majority who make up half of the Christian Syrians, there are also Maronites (Catholic), Syriac Catholics, Greek Catholics, Armenian Apostolic, Armenian Catholics, and Chaldeans.  There are Latins, Jacobites, Protestants and Nestorians.

It is estimated that 6.5% of the 23 million Syrians are Christian – so about a million-and-a-half souls. There is dwindling population of Syrian Christians, partly due to a declining fertility rate among Christians and also because of Christian emigration. 

Violence and persecutions

With tens of thousands of deaths, wounded, disables and countless numbers of internally displaced persons, refugees, widows and orphans, the last six years have resulted in a theater of conflict of unprecedented violence in Syria and the surrounding region.

In this crucible of Christianity, where St. Paul was converted in the 1st century, Christians have paid a very high price for their closeness to the Alouites who have governed the country and protected the minorities.

Christians today share the dramatic fate of their fellow citizen, exacerbated by the anxiety of their future, in the country of the most ancient churches. Like all Syrians, Christians are exposed to fighting, atrocities and the economic difficulties of a devastating conflict, but are also confronted with additional existential dilemmas.

Christians have limited choices. The Syrian Christians are the only community without a defined territory.  They are scattered throughout the country without any political or military boundaries.

Throughout history, there has been evidence of harmony between Syrian Christians and Muslims characterized by the common celebration of their respective religious holidays, the bonds of mutual friendship on the benches of the school and university and their frequent collaboration in business and on national projects. In contrast to the bloody violence that has characterized Egypt and Lebanon, there has never been a history of tension between the Christians and Muslims in Syria.

On the road to Aleppo, in the North of the country, there is the basilica of St. Simeon and the column of the fifth century hermit who, according to the account of one of the hagiographers “resisted the heat of thirty summers and the cold of as much as thirty winters” through constant prayer.

The beginning of the so-called Arab spring was accompanied by the rise of extremist groups affiliated with al-Qaida, composed mainly of non-Syrians, who sought to impose a radical vision of Islam in areas out of the control of the government through an imposition of terror. This was seen in the rise of public beheadings, torture, kidnapping…


Since the beginning of the conflict, it is estimated that half of the Christians have had to leave their homes to seek refuge abroad, or in other regions within the country, particularly in the diocese of Latakia which includes four departments: Latakia, Tartus, Homs and Hama.

According to international organizations, more that 60% of Syrians are displaced. This is a humanitarian disaster of unprecedented magnitude, which the world has not fully grasped.

Among Christians, despair and anticipatory fear of the persecution and abuses have resulted in a preventative exodus, most notably in areas placed under control of extremist armed groups. This phenomenon of emigration, which has been a trend over the past twenty years, has accelerated dramatically with the recent conflicts.

Unlike other political and cultural communities, such as the Sunnis who are massively rallied to the insurgency, the Alawites, who are intimately invested in the politics of the State, the Druze mountain dwellers who a have a strong warrior tradition and Kurds who have a history of an autonomous militia, the Christians have no own military force on the ground. Scattered throughout all of Syria, the Christians are not protected by boundaries, as with other minorities, nor do they have any recognized community federation.  Their survival on the land of their ancestors now depends on the outcome of the devastating conflict that continues to destroy everything.

Uprooted, unarmed, and without a delineated territory appropriated to them, the Christians of Syria will owe their survival to the resolution of a conflict whose violence and barbarism affect the whole international community today.

Daily Reality

Currently, the daily reality of the Syrian people is characterized by the calamities of an economic slump devastating the population, the constant devaluation of the currency, increasing destruction and emigration, and ongoing atrocities and acts of violence committed by armed Islamist groups.

Less than 4% of the population of the Middle East is Christian. Rather than be discouraged by this number, we should be encouraged by the affirmation of his Holiness Benedict XVI when he spoke about Europe: What counts is the quality and not the quantity. Christians of the Middle East have been the leaven, witnessing to a future hope and promise: not because of their own strength or their skill, but by the active, redemptive and transforming presence of their Savior Jesus Christ among them.

Without wanting to idealize the suffering of the ordeal or the persecution, it is precisely in such circumstances that the Church prospers, and that the faithful become more attached to their Savior and find in their faith the answer to all their woes.

Who can better proclaim the Gospel to the Arab world and thus reduce terrorism if not Arab speakers? What harm is there to announce the universal message grounded in Christian morality such as “love your neighbor as yourself” or moreover, “what you want others to do for you, do it for them.”

Formation of Clergy

There are 32 clergy in the diocese of Latakia. None can speak a foreign language. Bishop Chbeir has been in charge of the Diocese of Latakia for two and a half years. Right from the beginning he decided to teach seminarians in French. In Lebanon, theology is taught in French and Arabic. The two-year pre-seminary period aims as accustoming seminarians to follow a very dense spiritual life and to learn French and to discern their vocation.

Teaching seminarians in French is vital for them and for the diocese.  It enables them to follow their philosophical and theological studies in French, to widen their research and horizons so that they may become more mature. Furthermore, they could run our schools we are hoping to construct.

Bishop Chbeir teaches three biblical formation in three sectors of the diocese. He himself studied in Rome 25 years ago. It is the most basic way to be in touch with the faithful.

Who is Bishop Chbeir?

Bishop Antoine Chbeir was born in Ghosta, Lebanon in 1961. He studied Computer Science at the Business, Automation, Technical and Computer Institute in Beirut, Lebanon, and Philosophy and Theology at the University of the Holy Spirit in Kaslik, Lebanon. He received his PhD in Philosophy and Biblical Theology at the Gregorian University in Rome.

After being ordained to the priesthood in 1988 by Bishop Chukrallah Harb, and during his studies in Rome, he assisted in serving several parishes in Italy as well as short periods in New York, Switzerland, London, Dublin, and France. He served twenty two years in the Bishop’s office from 1993 – 2015. He was also the first pastor and the founder of the parish of Our Lady of Gifts in Adma, Lebanon.

Bishop Antoine Chbeir was member of the Vocations Committee since 1993, and was in charge of the instruction of married deacons in the Eparchy of Jounieh. Bishop Chbeir is fluent in French, English, Italian, and Arabic, and he translated many books from Italian, English and French to Arabic.

Bishop Chbeir was ordained Bishop of Lattakia, Syria, by Patriarch Bechara Peter Rai April 18, 2015, where he now serves the 40,000 Maronites with a community of thirty priests. His priestly, humanitarian and ecclesial work in the Eparchy with Christians and non-Christians alike is well known and respected.


Bishop LaValley announced the Solidarity in Faith initiative at the Chrism Mass of April of 2017 in response to Pope Francis’ call to assist Christians of the Middle East who are persecuted for their faith. We have twinned with the Maronite Diocese of Latakia, Syria to develop a mutually enriching relationship of sharing, solidarity and understanding. Bishop Antoine Chbeir of Latakia visited our diocese December 11-18. Please take the opportunity to hear about the lives of Christians in Syria; amid our many differences, we share so much.