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“There was hardly a family that wouldn’t have a loss. I remember a 20-member family where only a 76-year-old grandfather and his 5-year-old grandson survived; all the others were buried under the ruins of their home. The old man would always ask me why he needed to live and what the point of his life was.”

“There were so many ‘whys’ that I myself got entangled in those questions. Children and adults were going through awful depression, all wore black, painted everything in black, everything was black, there was no bright spot in their lives,” adds the sister.

In a time of overwhelming need, their faith in the Gospel has helped them to restore life’s many colors.

“Children were the most vulnerable in those days; many had lost their parents, many were hungry. The most immediate task was to change their lives, their environment — to educate them and give them a hope to live.”

First based in several northern Armenian villages, the sisters helped revive parishes long suppressed by the Soviets, teaching children and providing comfort and counsel to their parents. In 1996, Sister Arousiag founded the Our Lady of Armenia Boghossian Educational Center, which to this day provides a home to dozens of parentless children. Two years earlier, the sisters founded Our Lady of Armenia Summer Camp, where every year more than 800 children from different regions of Armenia spend three weeks in a completely different environment to play, study, rest, learn and develop positive attitudes toward life. In order to ensure the continuity of education, Sister Arousiag also led in the creation of the Youth Development Center, a vocational school in Gyumri, and a day care center for the elderly.

“Working with orphans and abandoned children is challenging,” Sister Arousiag says. “They try to understand why they have found themselves in this status, often looking for their share of guilt inside themselves.

“I often hear children say that not I, no one, could ever understand them.

“Perhaps they are right; we won’t understand them. It is here that faith again comes to my aid — I explain to them that perhaps only they can help and be useful to others who find themselves in a similar situation, and that this is their mission.”

Sister Arousiag believes the tools religious faith provides are the best — perhaps the only — means to tackle these contemporary challenges.

“Things have changed over years. It was difficult when we had in our center children orphaned by the earthquake or war. But they had a different mentality then, as they knew they had been loved once. But now it is more difficult because most of our children are abandoned orphans,” she explains. “Their protest is against the whole world, and here we often become helpless, and it is only faith that helps us also to help these children.”

In this way, she maintains, faith can transform lives — just as it transformed her own. “Every morning, at 5 a.m., my mother took me to the Badarak [the Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church], then I studied at the school of the sisters. I felt pain every time my mother told me about the suppression of religion in Soviet Armenia.”

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