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A number of national and international organizations are bringing these projects to life, led by the charitable arm of the Armenian Catholic Church, Caritas Armenia. The guiding force behind this has been Archbishop Rafael François Minassian.

“Only God knows,” he says when asked how this initiative began. “If one believes in God, trusts the will of God, then he will never be afraid of any undertaking,” he says. “God has blessed the activities of Caritas. Caritas aims to help all those who need it and to develop communities in need — and the larger society.

“Difficulties are temporary,” he adds.

The archbishop travels from place to place every day and learns about all the different initiatives and projects; he talks to people in need and tries to understand and address their seemingly unsolvable problems.

For all he has helped to achieve, he is reluctant to speak of his own role, saying, “The one who should know, knows.”

What should be known are the collaborative efforts of the global Catholic Church to improve the lives of Syrian Armenian refugees in Armenia.

“There is a strong collaboration among various Caritas national offices,” explains Lusine Stepanyan, manager of the migration and integration projects for Caritas Armenia, adding that “it is not a coincidence that Caritas Armenia gave a helping hand to Syrian Armenians with assistance from its Czech, German and Austrian peers.”

Caritas Armenia’s collaborative efforts are not limited to other national Caritas organizations, but include close ties to the Armenian Catholic Church, especially in the person of Archbishop Rafael, who serves also as president of Caritas Armenia, and to CNEWA, whose largely North American donors have supported hundreds of initiatives to help Syrian refugee and displaced families now living in Armenia, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Even as they first found refuge in Armenia, plans were being developed to assist the displaced — expedited by governmental policies that offer automatic citizenship to ethnic Armenians. The archbishop transformed the curial headquarters of the Armenian Catholic Church in Eastern Europe, offering temporary shelter to some of the most vulnerable persons seeking refuge in Yerevan: refugees who did not speak Armenian; the elderly; and those with special needs, such as Salbi Burtyan and her son George.

Caritas Armenia’s German and Czech Caritas partners offered their support, providing funding to support rents and utility bills. The Austrian Development Agency transferred some $330,000 to both the Red Cross and Caritas Armenia, enabling the charitable arm of the church to provide a full package of support, including coupons for winter clothes and supplies from the biggest supermarkets in Yerevan.

This initial project was completed in July 2015. By that time, more than 3,000 beneficiaries were given food, shelter and support during the most difficult period of their lives. When western European countries began to open their doors to Syrian refugees, however, the number of Syrian Armenians taking shelter in Armenia gradually decreased, enabling Caritas Armenia to offer more than just emergency relief.

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