Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Please feel the sorrow and the joy of service of our brother, the newly elected Bishop of Latakia Syria, Bishop Antoine Chbeir. Let’s work to assist him.
“Thank God, he puts you on my way ever since I was elected for serving the beloved diocese of Latquieh. I hope you’re doing well, as well as yours.
The situation in our diocese is quite well. We have to deal with the outflow of Christian and Muslim refugees both from Damascus, Alep and all over the country. But all is not gloom and doom, what is economically and existentially disastrous God turns it in a true spiritual richness. The Cathedral is almost full during the days of the week and packed on Sundays, where everybody is invited to coffee after mass. The daily mass is anticipated by the office prayer and followed by the rosary and “ya oum allah.” People spent almost two hours in a row in the church.
I undertook visits to the parishes of the diocese beginning with the distant ones especially those who were hard hit by the war, because my diocese is five times as big as Lebanon (55000Km2) and includes four departments: Tartus, Latquieh, Hama and Homs.
It is also the biggest Maronite diocese with fifty thousand people who outnumbers those of Damascus and Alep, less than three thousand and one thousand respectively.
Last Sunday I visited Rable near Homs on Lebanese border and the Sunday before Homs; on my way to these parishes there are many barricades of the Syrian army along the road to counterbalance the danger of the snipers in a part of it. In the neighborhood of rable the war wreaked havoc. In Homs, many quarters are completely destroyed, others partly, still others unharmed. St. Maroun Church was hit by three friendly rockets because it was taken by “Daesh,” wherever there is a cross in the church or elsewhere was shot, but there is a strong will to fix the damage and to give back hope to the population especially letting the church’s bell echoing again.
When the war started in Lebanon, I was thirteen years old and ever since I get used to live with uncertainty. Uncertainty of the economic situation, uncertainty of the car bombs, uncertainty of shelling, uncertainty of snipers, uncertainty of the political situation where every time you have to form a new government or elect a new president you have to wait for months to have the password from abroad to get the job done.
Now it seems God wants me to live the outcome of another war, thank goodness. Ever since I was elected I feel a huge peace deep down as if another one is in charge of the diocese.
Some of our churches lack the simplest equipment for pastoral activities: chalice, cross, infrastructure and the priests are horrified when they are assigned to such a task but they accepted it with a lot of love and devotion.
My first and foremost preoccupation is the priests of the diocese and the refugees. I am fully committed to provide them spiritual, pastoral, cultural and financial support. There is a French saying: “starving stomach has no ears”.
Our budget is exhausted by the salary of the priests. The single salary is 160 dollars. I pegged it to the dollar because the slump of Syrian currency is huge. It may lose twenty or thirty percent of its value in one single day.
We have thirty-two priests, twenty six of them are active, not all the rest, inactive because of old age or sickness; they’re still ours, which means we need more than five thousand dollars a month to only cover the priests salary. We need as much as this sum to provide refugees shelter and food.
We have to add $11,200 per year for the medical care of 32 priests, and $13,500 tuition for two seminarians at Ghazir Seminary.
Our revenues are very slim, the starting salary in Syria is about 60 dollars, which means a Syrian citizen has to do with two dollars each single day. Could you provide us dear Mgr. stipends for the priests, mobile clinics serving refugees and poor?
As I told you on the phone, I had biblical studies in the Gregoriana in Rome. My thesis was on the book of Job. I graduated in 1993. I can give lectures both in New and Old Testament if you need a hand in this domain. May God bless you, thank you for the consideration of all these matters and remain in sentiment with you in the Lord.”
+Mgr. Antoine Chbeir