NEW YORK–His Holiness Karekin I–Catholicos of All Armenia’s–arrived in New York April 29 for the start of his second official pontifical visit to the East Coast. Undergoing a medical examination in New York–His Holiness kicked off his official visit with a May 3 "hrashapar" service at St. Vartan Cathedral.
Community members from New York and New Jersey began to fill the cathedral long before the 7 p.m. start time–as the church was readied for His Holiness’ visit.
Scores of students from various Armenian weekly schools and the Khrimian Lyceum carrying red and white carnations positioned themselves alongside the more than 70 members of the ecumenical and Armenian clergy who had lined up on the specially-placed long red carpet on the cathedral plaza.
Among the Armenian clerical leaders present were Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian–Primate of the Western Diocese; Archbishop Hovnan Derderian–Primate of the Canadian Diocese; Archbishop Karekin Nercessian–Vicar of the Araratian Pontifical Diocese; Archbishop Datev Gharibian–Primate of Brazil; and Archbishop Kissag Mouradian–Primate of Argentina. Also present were Archbishop Mesrob Ashjian and Bishop Houssig Bagdasian.
His Holiness entered the cathedral dressed in a hand-embroidered gold and purple robe while world-famous organist Berj Zamkochian performed.
In welcoming the Supreme patriarch "on this blessed occasion celebrating the Centennial of the Diocese of the Armenian Church in America," Archbishop Barsamian paid tribute to the pontiff’s presence "in this sanctuary tonight which inspires our hearts–and lifts our spirits."
The Primate observed that His Holiness–on his second visit to the East Coast–"has come to pay tribute to the work of his great predecessor–Catholicos Mgrdich Khrimian–who established the Diocese of America in 1898. Among the greatest assets of the Armenian Church during this past century," the Primate continued–"have been the wise–upright and courageous leaders who have occupied the highest office at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. Catholicos Karekin continued this great and honorable tradition into our own day."
Cardinal O’Connor–dressed in red robes and clerical hat–spoke as well at the ceremony.
"I am distressed that you are so much younger than I–and yet you are the Catholicos of All Armenia’s," the Cardinal said. "I am twelve years your senior and am only a cardinal and archbishop of this little village of New York."
The Roman Catholic leader related that earlier in the day–he had celebrated two masses. The first was in memory of Pierre Toussaint–a black slave who came to this country and treated the sick even though he was treated with contempt by the wealthy whites.
The second was St. John Bascal–an Italian who worked with the young. "During these two services–I was reminded of the universality of our shared Christian faith.
"And I thought of you being enthroned on Palm Sunday because your people have suffered so much through the centuries. That is a sign of true Christianity. We thank you for your generosity–kindness–Christian faith–and we love you."
Speaking in both Armenian and English–Catholicos Karekin I spoke last–and had strong words of encouragement for his parish and his faithful.
"I feel deep in my heart that we are passing through a moment of historical importance. We are eyewitnesses to the end of a century and the opening of a new glorious page in the new millennium."
His Holiness went on to say Armenia’s must give thanks for finding a new life in America after the massacres–death and agony it experienced in the 19th and 20th centuries.
"We have become a nation of intellectuals–artists–industrialists–builders. This country gave us all the facilities for us to work for our pursuit of happiness–and we are deeply grateful."
His Holiness then focused on "self-awareness–stating that Armenia was becoming a member of the world community–and a dignified member of the United Nations.
"The Church as the nurturer of the soul–is what has kept us together for 1,700 years. Let it continue to do so. We will not become a society where consumerism is becoming a second god."
His Holiness also spoke of the future–saying Armenia was no longer a nation and church to be consoled by the past.
"We are committed to a new life–to a new millennium. As the first nation to adopt the Christian faith–we will be celebrating its 1,700th anniversary in the year 2001.
"The world will only know us when we face the future with one Church–as one nation. Etchmiadzin is the birthplace of all Armenia’s."
The congregation sang Hayr Mer to end the service–led by choir director Khoren Meikhanedjian.