He said: “Ex-Soviet countries, in general, are still unable to be self-sufficient. That’s why the poor class of society is high. There is no system that could help them to be comfortable in their daily life. Plus, we have the coronavirus. Plus we had the war.”
Fr. Raphael was referring to the recent conflict between Armenia and its neighbor Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The area lies within Azerbaijan but is home to ethnic Armenians who refer to the territory as Artsakh.
The war raged from Sept. 27 to Nov. 10 at the cost of more than 6,000 soldiers’ lives. Ten of thousands of civilians fled to Yerevan, where they found refuge in schools, hotels, and private homes.
“The whole situation is very complicated, very confusing for the people who emigrated from their country,” said Fr. Raphael. “They have to find an apartment to live, and also work and to feed their family members.”
As president of Caritas Armenia, the 74-year-old archbishop is leading the Catholic outreach to the country’s most desperate people.
“This is our mission as a Catholic Church, without putting in any difference between the people. We are looking only for the person in need,” he said.
It’s an important point because Catholics are a tiny minority in Armenia, numbering around 160,000.
Most citizens belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church, one of the six ancient Oriental Orthodox Churches and Armenia’s national church.
Fr. Raphael emphasized that Caritas Armenia cares for orphans, refugees, and ill people with the help of benefactors from around the world.
He noted that the group For the Martyrs, led by Gia Chacón, recently visited the country to deliver gifts to displaced children as part of its Operation Christmas for Armenia initiative.
He said that Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), as well as Aid to the Church in Need, were also making significant contributions.
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But besides these organizations which have a long-term commitment to the country, the archbishop said there were others that would not remain in Armenia for long.
“At this moment, to tell you the truth, there are so many people coming from all over the world to help. They want to give it [aid] and then, after a few months, they want to leave. But the poor will remain poor,” he said.
He urged potential U.S. donors to support the work of CRS and the USCCB in Armenia.
“Through them, we can take care of the people with certain projects that could be very useful for them. Because I am not from that character to feed the people and then the second day they are still hungry,” he said.
“What I’m trying to do is to find certain ways of helping the people to become self-sufficient.”