LOS ANGELES–His Holiness Aram I–Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia–wrapped up his 15 day tour of the West Coast with a two day visit to San Francisco. The Catholicos met with clergy and community leaders–the Mayor of San Francisco–Gavin Newsom–led canonical prayers at St. Gregory Armenian Church–visited Krouzian-Zekarian-Vaspouragan Armenian school (KZV)–and was honored with a community banquet as well as a welcoming dinner at the home of Ohan and Palig Der Aprahamian.
During his visit to KZV Armenian school–students from preschool through the eighth grade performed for the Catholicos–honoring the 1600th anniversary of the founding of the Armenian alphabet. He delivered a special message to the children about the meaning of the poem "The Armenian Language is the Armenian home," stressing the need for language to perpetuate Armenian identity.
The Mayor of San Francisco–Gavin Newsom–welcomed His Holiness Aram I to his City Hall offices. The meeting of approximately one hour covered a wide range of topics–including the integration of the Armenian American community into civic life–the importance of melding tradition and modernity–the struggle for peace in the Middle East and the role of the US in the region.
In discussing the need for building community among peoples of diverse religions–His Holiness Aram I emphasized that "dialogue and collaboration" is the only means by which this can be achieved. He explained that because of tremendous demographic shifts throughout the world–there no longer exists a "’Christian United States’ or ‘Christian Europe.’ We are all living together."
When asked by Mayor Newsom about the situation in the Middle East–His Holiness said–"I really support this political vision of the United States to support democratization–but the question is ‘How?’ Here we have to be realistic and take into consideration the specific realities on the ground in the Middle East. That’s the right way and the most efficient way."Are we doing that?" asked the Mayor. "I cannot pass judgment," responded the Catholicos. "But I expect more from the United States." The Mayor questioned if the United States could be so naive as to not understand the importance of the political realities and different mentalities of the people in the Middle East. "Sometimes that can be a strategic position," said the Catholicos.
Regarding US engagement in various areas of the Middle East–the Catholicos said that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process "is key. There needs to be a mutually acceptable solution. Repercussions of the peace process are felt in Iraq–Lebanon–and elsewhere in the Middle East. If I were in charge," said His Holiness Aram I–"I would have concentrated on the peace process before Iraq–reminding the Mayor that "throughout the Lebanese war–we described it as ‘the war of the others’." He reiterated his belief in the democratic vision of the United States–but said–"You cannot transform overnight those communities."
When the Mayor asked whether the Catholicos was given a key to the city on his last trip to San Francisco–the Catholicos joked–"Whenever I go they give me the key–but they never show me which door it opens!"
His Holiness concluded his visit with Mayor Newsom by thanking him and expressing hope that the Mayor and his office would expand their cooperation with the Bay Area Armenian American community.
At the banquet honoring the Catholicos–Archbishop Mardirossian said how proud Armenia’s are of the Catholicos’s leadership. He also marveled at the fact that although the Catholicos has delivered at least 50 speeches over the last 2 weeks–he has not shown "any signs of fatigue." Mardirossian stressed–"this is the sign of a true leader."
Towards the end of the evening–the Catholicos bestowed the highest award of the Holy See of Cilicia–to Henry and Rita Khatchadourian–who recently pledged $1,000,000 to the endowment fund drive for the KZV school. "The school is not just a building. It’s a missionary reality." He thanked all those who participate in community life saying–"I don’t believe in words and messages. I believe in action. I believe in action that is undergirded in faith. It is sustained and articulated through dedication–service–and commitment."
His Holiness Aram I said he could sum up his trip with the phrase: "Recommitment to Identity." He spoke about the "identity crises" which most people are experiencing now–due to the effects of globalization. To meet the challenges facing the Armenian identity today–he said–one must learn about their roots because–"uprooted people cannot survive." The Catholicos also urged people to participate in community organizations and send their children to Armenian school. These functions have a "profound significance. They give us the strength of our Armenianness," he said. "Sometimes the spirit of Armenianness counts more than the language."
Discussing the need for Armenia’s to become a more integrated part of American society–he said–"We are 100% Armenian and 100% American–and any lines between the two don’t exist. We are part of this society and at the same time we have our own specific identity. They must not be in competition."
The Catholicos called upon Armenia’s to promote "cooperation and faithfulness." He spoke of the Etchmiadzin and Antelias Armenian churches forming one whole Armenian Church–eliciting loud applause from the 350 person crowd gathered to hear him speak at Khatchadourian Hall.
Joining the Catholicos on his visit to San Francisco were His Eminence Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian–Prelate of the Western Prelacy–Rev. Father Housig Mardirossian–Sceptor Bearer–and representatives from the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church.