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On November 27-28, around 40 clergy, representatives of faith-based organizations (FBOs), and academia from Armenia, Europe and Central Asia, as well international and civil society organizations such as World Vision and UMCOR, gathered together in Etchmiadzin, the Holy See of Armenian Apostolic Church, to participate in an international conference on “Education on Social Diakonia”. The conference was organized by Armenia Round Table Foundation with support from UNFPA Eastern Europe and Central Asia regional office, and UNFPA Armenia country office.

Opening the conference, Archbishop Natan Hovhannisyan delivered blessings of His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians. Garik Hayrapetyan, UNFPA Armenia Assistant Representative welcomed the participants, and stressed the importance of cooperation with FBOs in addressing the challenges that modern societies are facing today.

The presentations touched upon a variety of topics such as the educational, theological, and psychological aspects of social diakonia; the experience of social work education in Armenia and its parallels with social diakonia education; other countries’ experience (e.g. Russian Federation, Great Britain); etc.

The participants of the conference were received by His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, who welcomed and blessed them, voiced his hopes that the conference would yield good results, and thanked UNFPA for supporting the initiative. In his turn, UNFPA Armenia Assistant Representative thanked His Holiness for the willingness of Armenian Apostolic Church to cooperate in such important spheres.

In his closing remarks to the conference, Karen Nazaryan, Executive Director, Armenia Round Table Foundation, once again emphasized the necessity of education on Diakonia in Armenia, and the importance of sharing the experience that is in place on the matter.

The international conference took place within the framework of the “Developing and Practicing of Social Diakonia course at Gevorgyan Theological Academy” project. The Project is a continuation of the successful cooperation between UNFPA and Armenia Round Table Foundation in empowering church structures to make them more able to work in different aspects of the social diakonia contributing to harmonious and violence-free development of Armenian families, communities, and the society as a whole.

The project aims at introducing a Master Course on “Social Diakonia and Bioethics”, which will enable the 120 students of the Seminary to study the major pillars of Christian Social Teaching and Bioethics, including the issues of HIV, Abortion, Family Planning and Reproductive Health, Gender Equality, Gender-Based Violence, Trafficking, etc.

The course is unique in the Eastern Europe and therefore has a crucial role for building capacities of the future priests of Armenian Apostolic Church, who will be serving in the Armenian parishes world-wide and applying their diaconal skills and experience, as well as contributing to the development of diaconal capacities and programmes of the members of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia FBO and UNFPA Partnership Network on Population and Development on a regional level.

The partnership between UNFPA and Armenia Round Table Foundation started in 2009 with a comprehensive program to build capacities of priests and religious leaders on the issues accented by the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994) in the spheres pertaining to demography and development, reproductive and sexual health and rights, and gender equality.

The conference results will contribute to development of a theological framework for social and diaconal issues, as the basis for Christian social commitment which will ensure systematic education and application of social diaconal service by the priests and the students of the Theological Academies as a part of their daily pastoral service. Therefore establishing a regular course on Social Diakonia at the Gevorgyan Theological Academy is a lasting contribution to enable practicing of diakonia as an integral and essential part of Church service.