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Her 30-year-old daughter, Nana, notes, however, that there is little for the young people to do. The villages lack movie theaters, operating sports venues or even simple forms of entertainment. Everyone who can, she says, leaves. There are regional efforts, however, to encourage the youth — and young families — to remain in the area. The local school, which is Armenian, receives free textbooks and computers from Tbilisi. They were also allowed to have religious sisters teach catechism in the school before the community built its own religious center.

Some young professionals are coming back. Nana went to Tbilisi to study, receiving her teaching degree as a Georgian language specialist, and has now returned home. She is the director of one of the local schools and works as a Georgian language teacher. There were also 24 births in Eshtia in the first seven and a half months of the year, a big boon for a community that has lost half its population to emigration.

While the youth still lack employment opportunities and are pulled toward Russia to find a better life, those who have left are also feeling the urge to return to their roots and help rebuild.

Dr. Ovsepian and other villagers note that locals who abandoned their homes years ago are starting to send money back to make repairs, and are coming back on vacations.

The lack of priests for the Armenian Catholic Church throughout the Caucasus persists, threatening the development of the church, which is still recovering after eight decades of communist repression. Father Mikael Khachkalian, one of five Armenian Catholic priests in Georgia, says that, in addition to course work in philosophy, theology and pastoral formation, it takes proficiency in the Armenian language and special training in the Armenian Catholic liturgy to become a priest in the Armenian Catholic Church. The church, led by Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX, is one of the 22 Eastern Catholic churches in communion with the bishop of Rome.

The deficit has required that a number of Armenian Catholic communities must depend on Roman Catholic priests to celebrate the sacraments, a situation the priest says could compromise the integrity of the church. Some of the “priests who come want to create something of their own,” says Father Khachkalian, adding that they do not necessarily respect the culture “and that is a problem.”

Father Anton Antonian shepherds five villages &mash; a congregation of roughly 6,000 people that encompasses 65 miles. He runs from village to village, trying to celebrate the Soorp Badarak, or Divine Liturgy, at least once a week and make it to all the weddings, funerals and baptisms that occur in his widely scattered flock.

Father Antonian says it can be arduous for one man to serve so many. While he has a car, provided by Caritas Georgia, he has few resources to form his parishioners in the faith. Armenian-language books, bibles and other literature must come from Yerevan and it can be complex to transport material across the border. But the priest’s burden could also be considered a blessing, for it underscores the continued strength of the Catholic faith in the region.

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