ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

A Letter From Georgia

I was 15 years old when I encountered religious sisters for the first time. They came to the village of Arevik in northern Armenia, where I lived with my parents. I asked my mom, “Why are they dressed like that?”

Just to answer that question, she had to go back into history. For a typical Soviet child who continuously saw atheistic propaganda on the walls of school corridors, leveled to catch the most pupils’ attention, it was hard to understand who sisters were and why they would choose such a difficult life. Nevertheless, my mother made sense of it, gradually, and other things as well; for instance, why people in our village were called “Franks” — a nickname for Armenian Catholics, referring to the influence of French missionaries centuries ago.

This was the beginning of my long journey with my church. Not long after, a priest began celebrating the liturgy in our village church, the oldest Catholic sanctuary in Armenia. I joined the church choir and participated in the activities, lessons and camps organized by the Armenian Sisters of Immaculate Conception in our village.

In 1994, while still a student, I started working in the newly formed Ordinariate of the Armenian Catholic Church in Armenia as a secretary. My spiritual father, Archbishop Neshan Karakeheyan, who at that time served as vicar general for Armenian Catholics in Armenia, was one of the people who invested much in my personal, spiritual and professional development.

In 1998, I had the opportunity to become acquainted with the work of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. They worked in a city called Spitak, which still suffered from the disastrous earthquake of December 1988. They were managing a house there for children and adults with multiple disabilities. After serving in that house for a while, I was inspired to create a volunteer group to work with people with special needs.

When I shared my crazy idea with my spiritual father, he told me about Faith and Light, a multi-denominational Christian group that assists developmentally disabled people and their families. They were amazing in their vocation and community life. Thus in 1999 we started the first Faith and Light community in the Catholic Church in Gyumri — the second-largest city in Armenia. Nowadays, there are three communities with more than 80 people involved, and I still volunteer with them.

That same year, I married and started enjoying the grace of having a family. I have three daughters and an amazing husband and mother-in-law, who really helped me to manage this big beautiful family alongside with my busy career.

In 2002, after working with the church for eight years, I decided to change my career. Right at that moment, Caritas Armenia needed a manager for a project focused on domestic violence — a subject not well understood at that time in Armenia, or even for me. I conducted research and designed the methodology later used to help women and children who lived in violence in Gyumri.

For me, working with the church’s charity was symbolic; I was working in the church and participating in the creation of a constitution and statements of mission and values with the head of the Armenian Catholic Church in the Caucasus, Archbishop Nerses Der Nersesian; his vicar general, then Bishop Neshan Karakeheyan; and Zevart Najaryan from Catholic Relief Services Lebanon, who joined us as a consultant. I adored the mission and admired the work the organization did for the poor and vulnerable.

A decade later, after starting the biggest project of Caritas Armenia to date — the construction of the Disability Care Center, the largest and most modern facility for people with special needs in Armenia — I decided I needed to move on; we human beings need breaks, even from the things we love. Change helps us to evaluate and understand clearly what is dear to us, what we prioritize and what we keep doing just because it is part of the life routine.

My family and I moved to Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, where I worked with a secular development organization. But after two years, even as my career evolved to that of a consultant focused on organizational development and cultural sensitivity, my heart remained with Caritas.

As I reached out to Caritas Internationalis — the umbrella organization that brings together all national Caritas organizations — I received a call from my bishop, Archbishop Rafael Minassian. Caritas Georgia, which he serves as president, needed a director. It was the end of 2015, and for me it was very difficult to decide. First, it was such a short period to move the family again — this time to another culture and reality. Even though Armenia and Georgia are neighbors, the two cultures and peoples are very different from one another. Second, I have worked with people of many different cultures, but doing day-to-day management of a local organization without knowing the language was a bit daunting. But I had to take the decision to accept or not as God’s challenge — or gift — to once again work in the church and organization I love.

Challenge accepted. It meant that I had to move again and, at 41, start learning a new language. And I am!

I understood that change is one of the most important things in our lives. It helps us to stay humble in the continuous path of learning, it enriches us with knowledge and it makes us tolerant because we see that things can be at once good and bad in different ways and places.

One of the most empowering moments for me thus far was meeting with Pope Francis while he made a pastoral visit to Georgia earlier this year. The trip’s organizers asked that I join Camillian Father Pawel Dyl in greeting the pope at a meeting with charity workers in the capital of Tbilisi. While I was waiting for him to arrive, I was trying hard to keep my self-confidence. I was the only woman standing there among the whole male community of clergy. I had a confused feeling of pride and fear, until the moment he stepped out of the car. That humble look and sincere smile changed everything in a moment — one of the most remarkable moments of my life.

As I walked along with him, escorting him to his chair, the feeling of pride hit me, but this was pride in him. I was so proud that we have him as our spiritual leader. He was so caring while greeting and talking to people, so humble and human. He is a good example of how we, the leaders of charitable organizations, have to work and feel about our work: humble in our arrangements and sincere in our interactions.

I acknowledge one thing forever: When God gives us opportunities, we have to accept them with all their challenges. He is always there if we keep walking with him and, once in a while, he gives us the strength to cheer up and press on.

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