5 July 2016
The Rev. Mikael Khachkalian chats with a member of his congregation at the
Armenian Catholic Center. (photo: Molly Corso)
The Rev. Mikael Khachkalian does some amazing work in a far-flung corner of Georgia — and he does it virtually on his own. He’s the only Catholic Armenian priest serving in the capital, Tbilisi — long one of the centers for Armenian Catholics in the country.
He is one busy priest:
Father Khachkalian ministers to his people by both preaching the faith and preserving a culture. From celebrating the liturgy every morning in Armenian to Saturday language lessons with the youth, he is a full-time advocate for Armenian identity in Georgia.
After daily liturgies in the Armenian Catholic Center near downtown Tbilisi, the faithful explore the language of the liturgy as much as its meaning, sounding out unfamiliar Armenian words and practicing the proper pronunciation with the young priest and an assistant.
For Father Khachkalian, learning the language is paramount to understanding the faith, preserving the community’s Armenian Catholic identity and encouraging its growth for the future. But these evangelical efforts are facing stiff headwinds in a country experiencing a revival in Georgian nationalism and Georgian Orthodox Christianity.
...Father Khachkalian believes that 90 percent of self-identified Latin Catholics in Tbilisi are Catholic Armenians. Despite their numbers, however, there is no official Armenian Catholic church in Tbilisi — or anywhere in Georgia outside of the small village parishes in Samtskhe-Javakheti.
In a recent report, the priest outlined the need for a separate Armenian Catholic church in Tbilisi.
“The Armenian Catholic community in Tbilisi is going through difficult times,” he writes. “It’s divided and weakened.” He highlights that the parish center needs “major repairs” and is not big enough for the entire community to meet at one time and celebrate their faith.
“It is also a problem for us to build a church. We have not seriously tried yet, but I think we will have problems,” he adds. While Georgian law nominally does not prohibit Armenian Catholics — or any other faith — from building a church, in reality, it is very controversial.
“Discrimination — if you start to do something, then you feel it.”
...From morning until night, Father Khachkalian witnesses to the faith and culture that make Armenian Catholics a unique part of the universal Catholic faith.
The people are both dedicated and devout, as we noted in 2014:
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.
It is also to realize, above all, that the story of Georgia’s Armenian Catholics is one of unwavering faith.
Read more about the Armenian Catholic community in A Firm Faith. And discover the heroic work of Father Khachkalian in this profile.