The Synod of the Armenian Catholic Church elected Archbishop Raphael Francois Minassian as patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians. A good friend and close partner of CNEWA, the newly elected patriarch shepherded the Armenian Catholic faithful scattered throughout Eastern Europe, including the republics of Armenia and Georgia in the Caucasus. Vatican News noted that a ringing of bells pealed from the patriarchal convent in Bzommar, Lebanon, in announcing the election of his beatitude, who assumed the name Raphael Peter XXI.
He succeeds Patriarch Gregory Peter XX, who died in May. Pope Francis called for the synod in Rome after a July synod in Beirut failed to surface a candidate with the necessary votes.
Born to survivors of the Armenian genocide on 24 November 1946, in Beirut, he was christened Raphael Francois. He was educated at the Patriarchal Seminary of Bzommar and studied philosophy and theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University. In addition, he studied psychology at the Salesian Pontifical University. On 24 June 1973, he was ordained a priest as a member of the Patriarchal Clergy Institute in Bzommar.
After serving as a parish priest in Lebanon, he was transferred to the United States, where he pastored the Armenian Catholic communities in Arizona, California and Nevada. He returned to the Middle East in 2005. Six years later, Pope Francis appointed him ordinary for the Armenian Catholic flock of Eastern Europe, which includes some 600,000 people dispersed in parishes throughout Russia, the Balkans, Ukraine and the Caucasus.
Until his election as patriarch, he chaired Caritas Armenia and served as rotating president for Caritas Georgia. His service with Caritas coincided with CNEWA’s renewed focus in the Caucasus, focusing on the most vulnerable communities — the elderly, single mothers and their children, refugees and the displaced — served by the small but dynamic Catholic community there.
Known for his bold vision, quick wit, sense of humor and a tenderness for the poor, he is affectionately known as RAM (Raphael Archbishop Minassian), possessing a deep reverence for the ancient spiritual heritage of Armenian Christianity and the heavy crosses it has borne for centuries.
“Archbishop Minassian feels keenly the unique fears and needs of the Armenian people, particularly in light of the many tragedies that have devastated them in the past 100 years or so,” wrote CNEWA contributor Gohar Abrahamayn in our blog last February about his concern for Armenians displaced and devastated by the recent war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“He is certain God does not abandon his children.”
“The sorrow has come to all of us,” he said. “We must overcome it and help each other go through this black streak as soon as possible. God tests our faith and wants us to pass through it to revive and strengthen our faith.
“I am pretty sure God will not forget his children.”
Many years and ma’bruk, Beatitude!
Michael J. L. La Civita is the communications director of CNEWA.