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A Letter From Georgia

by Anahit Mkhoyan with photographs by Antonio di Vico

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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.

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