At Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Tbilisi, parishioners greet one another during the Kiss of Peace.
fter generations of Soviet oppression, Georgia’s Armenian Catholics still labor to rebuild their community and their faith. Soviet Georgia’s bureaucrats suppressed Armenian Catholic parishes, imprisoned priests and boarded churches, but they failed to dampen Armenian Catholic faith and resolve. Ironically, that resolve is in jeopardy in the reasonably open and democratic Republic of Georgia. Latin (Roman) Catholic priests returned to Georgia in 1992, quickly reanimating parish life in two historic Latin parishes in the capital of Tbilisi. But it was not until 2002 that Tbilisi, home to more than 80,000 Armenians, received its first Armenian Catholic priest. Today, there are just five Armenian Catholic priests to tend to nearly 20,000 believers scattered throughout the country. Most live in a wide swath of villages southwest of Tbilisi in the predominantly Armenian region of Samtskhe-Javakheti, but the Georgian capital was, until a hundred years ago, the region’s largest Armenian-populated city. The lack of priests on the ground means Armenian Catholics living in cities such as Borjomi, Ozurgeti and Chiatura attend Latin parishes, a phenomenon that impacts all Eastern Catholics where clergy and parishes are nonexistent. This means that a way of life, as well as a faith tradition, is imperiled. More Armenian Catholics are finding themselves disconnected from centuries of tradition without access to the sacraments and rites that have been a part of their faith and, in fact, their identity. Yet, defying the odds, they stand firm. To spend time with Georgia’s Armenian Catholics is to rediscover the deep reservoirs of piety and purpose — and a remarkable strength of character — that have defined them for generations. OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF CNEWA
The official publication of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA)