When the tragic news of Decembers great earthquake in the Soviet Union was flashed around the world, groups and organizations everywhere began to organize emergency assistance.
For Catholic Near East Welfare Association, this was a moment for coming full circle. Our association was formed by the Holy See from the union of several existing Catholic organizations in the 1920s. One of our earliest humanitarian works was the relief of famine victims in Russia.
This December, through the generosity of our benefactors we were able immediately to place $100,000 in the hands of the Holy Father to assist the afflicted there. We also set up a special fund for reconstruction, a modest contribution compared to the massive amounts of governmental aid from around the world, but a real sign of the Churchs, your and our, concern.
The area of the Soviet Union devastated by the earthquake was Armenia. Armenia is no longer a separated political entity, but it remains a nation. Geographically it embraces the area where Iran, the Soviet Union, and Turkey meet. As a nation, Armenia is Christian, in fact the first nation to embrace Christianity. Its faith goes back to before Constantine and the conversion of the Roman empire.
In 1915 the Armenians suffered their bitterest hour when, expelled from eastern Turkey, about 1,000,000 men, women, and children were massacred or died of hunger and disease. Their sufferings became a byword. One of my earliest memories as a child was hearing sadly of starving Armenians.
Armenian Christians arc mostly members of the Armenian Orthodox church. Their spiritual head is the Catholicos Vasken I, whose residence is in the holy city of Etchmiadzin in the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic.
Orthodox Armenians are grouped in four jurisdictions: the Catholicate of Etchmiadzin, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and the Catholicate of Cilicia.
Catholic Armenians are under the leadership of Patriarch Jean Pierre XVIII Kasparian. His title is that of Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians, but he resides in Beirut. There is an exarchate or diocese for Catholic Armenians living in Canada and the United States.
Like all families, Armenians may have their own internal disagreements, but they are united in facing their trials. As their brothers and sisters in Christ, we are with them.
Msgr. Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA