His Holiness Catholicos Aram I of the Great House of Cilicia has been on a pontifical tour of the East Coast Armenian communities since arriving in the United States on November 6.
Throughout his tour, His Holiness visited Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, spreading his message of love and unity. During visits to churches, schools, nonprofits and advocacy organizations, he called for a new vision to preserve Armenian identity, strengthen national and religious values and unite the faithful through the church, with a special appeal to the youth. On November 17, His Holiness reached his final stop in New York City.
On Saturday, November 18, His Holiness conducted an Ecumenical Service at St. Illuminator’s Armenian Cathedral. Attending were Eastern Prelate Archbishop Anoushavan, Western Prelate Bishop Torkom, Eastern Prelacy Vicar Very Rev. Fr. Sahag Yemishian and Eastern Diocesan Vicar Very Rev. Simeon Odabashian, among others.
The prayer “In Faith I Confess” by St. Nerses Shnorhali, which has been translated into 50 languages, was read at this service in 17 languages. The reciters included Catholicos Aram (Armenian), Rev. Fr. Gabriel Alkass (Syriac), Bishop Athenagoras (Greek), Rev. Fr. Ryan Muldoon (Latin), Archbishop Gabriele Caccia (Italian), Metropolitan Zachariah (Malayalam), Bishop Gregory Mansour (English), Sophie Khachatryan (German), Bishop John (English), Karina Bayrakdarian (French), Anayis Bayrakdarian (Spanish), Aurora Bayrakdarian (Romanian), Rev. Fr. Gerald Murray (Portuguese), Medeia Mark (Georgian), Carlo Bayrakdarian (Arabic), Archdeacon Shant Kazanjian (Hebrew), Bishop Makarios (Ethiopian), Arevig Caprielian (Russian), Fr. Antoine Rizk (English), Fr. Jacob Ghali (English), Bishop Mikayel Mouradian (English), Rev. Fr. Athanasios (English), Rev. Fr. Efrem (English) and the clergy and congregation together (English).
The special service concluded with Catholicos Aram I praying for the unity of all peoples. “Even though we are diverse, we have Christ in common. We need to act as one,” he said.
The sacred hymn “Ourakh Ler” (Rejoice) was sung as the participants joined a fellowship hour in Pashalian Hall with attendees. During the gathering, soprano soloist Anahit Zakaryan, accompanied on the piano by Vagharshak Ohanyan, soulfully performed Caccini’s “Ave Maria” and the lilting “Yerkir Intz Hamar” (Sing for Me).
Mary Duggan, a lifelong and devoted member of the St. Illuminator’s Cathedral, called the event “deeply inspiring and unforgettable.”
Also on November 18, His Holiness met with youth from St. Illuminator’s Cathedral and St. Sarkis Church in New York, as well as Sts. Vartanantz Church of New Jersey. The discussion focused on the reorganization of the Diaspora, the revitalization of the church and the role of youth in Armenian life.
After delivering his pontifical message at the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, November 19, at St. Illuminator’s Cathedral, celebrated by Bishop Torkom Donoyan, Western Prelacy Prelate, the Catholicos was honored at a gala banquet at the world-famous Rockefeller Center Rainbow Room, with windows from the 65th floor providing vast views of Manhattan.
The more than 200 attendees, which included the Armenian representative to the United Nations Ambassador Mher Margaryan and Armenian Missionary Association of America Executive Director Zaven Khanjian, enthusiastically greeted the Catholicos as he entered, led by Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Eastern Prelacy Prelate, and surrounded by more than a dozen Armenian clergy.
Following a heartfelt invocation by His Holiness, the crowd was warmly welcomed by Prelacy banquets coordinator Susan Chitjian Erickson and Executive Council secretary Tamar Kanarian serving as mistress of ceremonies. The American and Armenian national anthems were sung a cappella by Siran Tchorbajian.
Steering Committee chairman Hrant Petrosyan, Esq., and Executive Council chairman Col. Aram Sarafian both spoke of Catholicos Aram’s many attributes, including “his love for all that is palpable,” “his efforts for those in need,” “his work as a prominent theologian” and “his pious role in serving Armenia, the Artsakh refugees, the Diaspora and the youth.” The church “is not four walls, it is the people,” said Sarafian, crediting the Catholicos for his valuable service in this regard.
Displaying the strong support that His Holiness has given to the youth, three young voices took center stage. Siamanto Academy student Vahan Chaglasian, speaking in Armenian, welcomed the Catholicos and called his visit “inspiring, uplifting and supportive of our parents and their children.”
St. Gregory of Datev Institute graduate Taleen Lakissian related the inspiring story of her father Rev. Fr. Mesrob Lakissian’s ordination as the priest of St. Illuminator’s Cathedral when she was only 10 months old. His journey “taught me so many things – my faith, church history, culture and how to serve my church and community,” she said.
“Salt and Light” Youth Ministry member Hovsep Terterian praised the emphasis on the fostering of youth involvement in the church, the community and with those who are in need of encouragement and hope in their everyday lives. All three young people received long ovations by the appreciative attendees.
Inspiring and Powerful Address
Archbishop Tanielian, in introducing the Catholicos, thanked all who had traveled from near and far to attend the welcoming of His Holiness and those who helped make this Thanksgiving pontifical visit possible and successful.
Catholicos Aram I spoke with the rapt audience in English and emphasized the important points he made throughout his two-week visit, including the unity of the Armenian people and the importance of a strong family foundation. He focused his eloquent address on his many dialogues with the youth.
“Globalization,” he stated, “is no longer a word. It is a reality of life. It has its own vision, a culture that destroys all small communities. We are directly exposed to this culture. We can’t live in this world in isolation. We have to learn to be proactive and preserve our Armenian identity. We cannot live in the past. We have to keep pace with the changing times and become the church of the 21st century.”
The church “is not a museum,” he added, stating that Armenians must renew the church “to become a transforming presence. The youth have the primary role in changing our church.”
The Catholicos recalled that in 1976, when he was a student, “the church was challenged. We cannot survive without our roots, and also, we must be an important part of the U.S. But there can be no assimilation. We are at the most crucial juncture of our Armenian nation. We are being invaded and impacted by many crises, polarization and tension in Armenia and the Diaspora.”
“We have to strengthen our faith, hope and vision. We need leaders who can lead our nation, leaders who have courage, wisdom and who are aware of the geopolitical realities, which are not in favor of our homeland. We need to develop. We cannot remain where we are. We must engage with the challenges and cope with the new reality in Armenia and the Diaspora,” he advised.
“In the last two years, I have declared strongly to the Diaspora that we have to go forward with a new vision, and the youth have a very important role to play,” he said. “Our youth, with their life practices and courage, can play a pivotal role,” Catholicos Aram I said to a lengthy standing ovation from attendees.
Celebratory Awards and Performances
Several young people delighted the attendees with pieces displaying their musical artistry. Singer Anahit Indzhigulyan presented a powerful “Mardigi Yerkuh” (Ashot Satian), along with “Je te veux” (Eric Satie). Karina Vartanian performed Gomidas Vartabed’s soulful “Groong” and Giacomo Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro.”
Hooshere Bezdikian offered Khachatur Avetisian’s proud “Caravan.” Siran Tchorbajian sang a lilting “Keleh Keleh” by Gomidas Vartabed, and Bezdikian and Tchorbajian presented the timeless and celebratory “Yerevan-Erebuni” by Edgar Hovhannisian in a joyous duet.
Professional and widely-acclaimed violinist Diana Vasilian followed with an Armenian medley of favorites that had the audience singing in unison.
Archbishop Tanielian announced the awards that honored “our brave soldiers.” The Mesrob Mashdotz Medal was presented to Armenian Studies scholar and Prelacy Executive Director Dr. Vartan Matiossian for his contributions to Armenian culture. Karnig Alajajian received the order of Knight of Cilicia for his active participation and philanthropic contribution to the Armenian community. The title of Prince of Cilicia was bestowed upon Richard Carolan for his longtime contributions to the Eastern and Western Prelacies and the Catholicosate of Cilicia, while his mother Tina Carolan was honored with the Queen Zabel medal.
Longtime and indefatigable community activist and Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Aram Hamparian offered greetings from sister organizations. “Our spiritual shepherd Aram Vehapar teaches us many things—among them are that we are owners of, not witnesses to, our Armenian faith, our Armenian freedom, our Armenian future,” he said. “Our destiny does not await us, rather it must be written by us.” Referring to the recent tragedy in Artsakh, he declared, “We must decide our future, or others will decide it for us. We either keep our seat at the table of nations, or others will have it taken from us, leaving us forgotten by history.”
Hamparian paid tribute to the recently deceased Dr. Dertad Manguikian, a “powerful lay leader, a great ally of Aram Vehapar,” and their timeless bond of duty. That is what “connected them and what has brought us together here today. That is the hallmark of our church, our cause. And that is among Vehapar’s core teachings, that God’s work begins in our hearts, but must be shaped by our hands.”
With a final congratulatory tribute to Catholicos Aram I, Hamparian stated, “Aram Vehapar remains our spiritual source of strength, our enduring wellspring of hope.”
The celebratory event concluded with a heartfelt chorus of Giligia, after which many in the crowd surrounded and congratulated the Catholicos.
From Washington to New York
The pontifical visit to the Eastern Prelacy of the U.S. commenced in Washington, D.C. on November 6, where His Holiness served as Guest Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives and raised the plight of the more than 100,000 Artsakh refugees and their urgent humanitarian needs with lawmakers.
While in Washington, His Holiness also offered a lecture on the geopolitics of religion in the Middle East at George Washington University. During the lecture, he emphasized the message of peace and respect for human rights in the monotheistic religions, and concluded with a challenge for representatives of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions to meet in Jerusalem, their shared Holy Land, to renew their commitment to collective values and principles, symbolizing a potential for a new era of peace in the Middle East.
Additionally, Catholicos Aram presided over the Divine Liturgy and delivered his pontifical address at Soorp Khatch Armenian Apostolic Church, after which the pontifical procession moved to the site where the new church, along with its adjacent structures, will be constructed. His Holiness conducted the blessing of the land ceremony on the site.
Before continuing on to Philadelphia on November 13, Catholicos Aram I visited the Armenian National Committee of America where he was warmly welcomed by Executive Director Hamparian, who provided an overview of the ANCA’s recent work. His Holiness concluded his visit by reaffirming the Holy See of Cilicia’s full support for the ANCA in its mission to pursue and protect the Armenian nation.
The Catholicos later arrived in Philadelphia and received a warm welcome from the community at the entrance of St. Gregory the Illuminator Church. In his pontifical address, the Catholicos emphasized the significance of living by religious, spiritual and national values in order to preserve collective identity.
His Holiness participated in a breakfast meeting with representatives of Armenian organizations in Philadelphia on November 14. The Catholicos and pontifical delegation also visited the Armenian Sisters Academy, where they were warmly welcomed by the school’s principal, Sister Emma, the teachers, the students and the school community. The students prepared a showcase in his honor.
Later that day, His Holiness Catholicos Aram I traveled to New Jersey, where he was welcomed in front of Sts. Vartanantz Church. During his pontifical address, His Holiness encouraged the faithful to renew their faith through active participation in the communal life of the church.
On November 15, His Holiness convened with representatives of Armenian organizations and associations in New Jersey. He also visited the Hovnanian School, where he was welcomed by the principal, teachers, students and parents. The students presented a program in honor of His Holiness. In his address, His Holiness reminisced about the school’s construction decades ago, highlighting the crucial role of Armenian schools in preserving the Armenian identity.
His Holiness then visited the Armenian community in Troy, New York. Accompanied by his pontifical delegation, he received a warm welcome from the community in front of Holy Cross Armenian Apostolic Church. H.E. Archbishop Souren Kataroyan journeyed from Canada to participate in the visit.
In his pontifical address, His Holiness underscored that the church is a community founded on love. He highlighted that Christ not only loved humanity but also preached the importance of loving one another and clarified that love requires dedication, service and support. He urged the community to express its love by supporting immediate and extended families: the nation, the church and the community.
Prior to concluding his visit in New York, His Holiness Aram I convened with representatives of Armenian organizations in Troy before traveling to New Britain, Connecticut on November 16. Catholicos Aram I and his pontifical delegation were welcomed at the entrance of St. Stephen’s Armenian Apostolic Church. In his pontifical address, His Holiness underlined the pivotal role of the church in community life, stating that the church has a mission to unite the faithful and address their spiritual needs. Catholicos Aram I departed New York on Tuesday, November 21.