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Father Benny Bethyadgar

Posted: Tuesday, July 03, 2001 at 04:13 PM CT

Amidst the statistics and lamentable conditions that have made up the horrific existence in the Republic of Georgia, the ineffective government aid programs politics and the Assyrians' determination to survive in faith and truth, a ray of hope has landed in the heart of this seemingly fated problem. That hope is a simple man with a not-so-simple mission. His name is Father Benyamin Bethyadgar, or as he prefers, Father Benny, or simply Benny. He is the main reason that we, as a community, have become aware of the circumstances in the Republic of Georgia.

Benny Bethyadgar was born in Urmie, Iran where he spent his childhood years there along with his mother, Elishwa, his father, Wallace, and his two siblings. While attending elementary school in Urmie, his parents noticed Benny's keen interest in the church. At the mere age of eight, he began to seek an active role in the church. He learned the Assyrian language, and eventually became shamasha, or deacon, of his parish.

At thirteen, he was an active member of his youth group. While others slept through the lazy days of summer, Benny, along with the group, journeyed nearby villages, feeding the poor and aiding the sick. Benny continued this lifestyle for the next few years, not knowing that one day it would change his life forever.

At sixteen, Benny's life began to take a significant turn. Meeting with Bishop Mar Toma, during a local visit to Urmie, Benny discussed the imperative role the Church had played in his life, and communicated his attraction to religious devotion. Consequently, in 1982, Benny headed for Tehran to attend the seminary.

After finishing his studies, he fled Iran via Turkey in 1985. He entered the seminary in Rome, Italy. There, his devotion to help the poor was reinforced as he continued his studies. Eventually, he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and a Masters in Theology. With a completed thesis on The Rogation of Ninevites (Ba'oota 'd Ninwaye), his Ph.D. is imminent. He is fluent in Assyrian, Italian, French, Farsi, Turkish, and most recently Russian.

On September 18, 1994, he became the first Assyrian Catholic priest to be ordained in California. Although Father Benny's dream had come true, the challenges he would face as a priest had just begun. The Vatican-sponsored Georgian humanitarian mission began in May of 1995. Monsignor Jean-Paul Gobel, the Vatican's Ambassador and Administrator to the Republics of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan obtained a letter written by the Assyrian community leaders in Georgia that same year. The letter's aim sought support from Assyrians living outside of Georgia. Monsignor Gobel then delivered the letter to the Vatican and assiduously sought an Assyrian translator.

At the time of the letter's distribution, Father Benny was working on his Ph.D. studies. Reading the letter, he instantly agreed to accompany Monsignor Gobel to Tbilisi, Georgia. After only three days of experiencing life in Tbilsi, he realized that a greater mission was set before him. Knowing that his services would be successful in Georgia, Father Benny moved to Georgia acting not only as the Assyrians' local priest, but as their faithful friend.

In Georgia, he tirelessly works to feed the hungry, cloth the poor, aid the sick, and educate the young. Acknowledging the importance of education, Father Benny teaches Assyrian language classes for children, adolescents and adults as well as a two-hour choir practice. There are nearly forty children who participate in these classes, most of whom have become fluent Assyrian readers of the Bible. Through these efforts, Father Benny has not only pulled together the Assyrian Georgian community, but has also rekindled the spirit of God and Assyrianism amongst its members.

Father Benny recognized and acknowledged his will to serve those who are less fortunate early on in his life. In Georgia, he not only fulfills his assignment with compassion and enthusiasm, he does it with earnest humility and meekness. There, he assists the handicapped and holds hands with the elderly. He embraces the ill and laughs whole-heartedly with the young. He brings hope to a people torn from war, re-instilling the idea of love and guidance to a culture that has guided him in becoming the man he is today. Perhaps what makes Father Benny most compelling, however, is his life-long commitment to humanitarian efforts, particularly to those dedicated to Assyrians worldwide.

For the next three years, Father Benny plans on maintaining that commitment in Georgia, in the hopes that Assyrians, throughout, will support him in this noble effort.

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