JOURNEY WITH ACN is our weekly newsletter regularly posted to our website and designed to acquaint you with the needs of the Catholic Church around the world and introducing you to various projects we have helped to bring into being together with our partners and ACN benefactors.
This week: Syria
The Consecrated life
For a tiny corner of Heaven
She was born in Aleppo, Syria, today a city of martyrs, growing up in an Armenian family. The majority of Armenians live outside Armenia today because this people, with its ancient Christian traditions, was long persecuted and almost completely wiped out, particularly during the genocide. In April it will be 100 years since the Turkish government sent almost two million Armenians out into the desert, where hundreds of thousands of them either died of starvation and thirst or were shot and beaten to death by the Ottoman soldiers. Then there followed a time of bitter suffering under the Soviets.
The Armenian Church was almost wiped out. Its priests died in the Gulags. That was when Arousiag was born, in a foreign land. She was one of four sisters. The neighbors reckoned that three of them might well become Sisters – but never thought it would be Arousiag. “I was the cheeky one,” she recalls. “But I could never quite silence the voice in me that was calling me to the religious life.” In 1976, by now already a member of the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, she visited Armenia. She said to herself, “I am an Armenian, born and bred. My ideal is Christ. Just as he was close to his people, so, too, I must be with my people.”
And so she stayed on. Today she runs the Our Lady of Armenia center, where the Sisters care for over a hundred poor families who would otherwise be unable to survive. Communism has destroyed not only the religious values, but all the other values as well. “So many people simply couldn’t care less whether they lie or cheat,” she says. She believes the only way is to rebuild is to start with the children.
Sister Arousiag lives by trust in God. And because of her trust hundreds of children can live their Faith.
Twenty years ago they started up a holiday camp program, “so that for three weeks at least the children can experience a different life” – can eat their fill, wear shoes without holes and clean clothes.
To start with there were 150 children; now there are 800 and they come from all over Armenia. “The purpose behind the holiday camps is so that the children can come to know Christ, so that they can accept the circumstances of their lives from God’s hand.” Sister Arousiag also takes in orphans and street children who are brought to them by the police or by neighbors, mostly from broken families. One mother explains: “I am divorced, I have four children, and three of them are here. One of my daughters is psychologically disturbed.” This is the fate of many people in this damaged nation. But Sister Arousiag is not about to give up, as she trusts in God. “I don’t have the money for the summer camp, and there are four groups already. I’ve handed over the problem to the Lord; He will have to do something. I don’t know what He will do, I only know that He loves us.”
Sister Arousiag also has a dream of her own: “I always wanted to become a saint. But I’m a long way from that. Now all I say to the Lord is: When the time comes, grant me a little corner of your great Heaven. With enough space so that I can take many of your children with me.” Just how many that will one day be is also partly down to us. •
United through prayer for the poor and persecuted Church!