YEREVAN (RFE/RL–Noyan Tapan)–President Robert Kocharian met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Bethlehem on Tuesday before attending an overnight Christmas mass in the traditional birthplace of Jesus Christ–the focal point of his visit to the Holy Land.
No details of the brief talks were reported. Following a ceremony at which Arafat awarded Kocharian a memorial medal–the two men joined several thousand local Armenia’s and pilgrims who gathered in the Bethlehem church for the liturgy held by Catholicos Karekin II–head of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
The Armenian Church historically marks Christmas on January 6. In Jerusalem and nearby areas–the celebrations are held under the old Julian calendar. Kocharian visited the Israeli parliament–Knesset–met with a group of Israeli business people and laid a wreath at the memorial to the victims of the Jewish holocaust earlier in the day.
Catholicos of All Armenia’s Karekin II went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Before arriving in Jordan–His Holiness stayed at Sharzha (Northern Emirates)–where he visited St. Gregory the Illuminator Church and met with the local Armenian community–reported the Noyan Tapan news agency.
The following day–at Amman’s airport–Karekin II was met by Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem Archbishop Torgom Manoogian–Head of the Jordan Diocese Archbishop Vahan Topalian–Jordan’s government officials–representatives of the diocesan council and Armenian benevolent organizations.
From the airport His Holiness was escorted by the Royal Guards to St. Thaddeus Church–where he addressed his word of blessing to the people. Karekin II was pleased to note that he was paying his first pastoral visit abroad to the Holy Land.
The same day–His Holiness held a meeting at the "Yuzbashian-Giulbenkian" Armenian School where he was greeted by pupils who sang songs and recited verses. Bestowing his blessing on the children–the Catholicos commended the efforts of the teaching staff of the school which has more than half a century of history. Later in the evening His Holiness held a meeting at the reception hall of the Marriot Hotel with representatives of the Armenian community of Jordan. Crowds of parents with their children–youths and elderly people turned out for the meeting to see the Catholicos of All Armenia’s and hear his pastoral address and news about Armenia and the Mother See of St. Etchmiadzin.
"I became Supreme Patriarch without putting my trust in my strength and ability–but solely thanks to my people’s love for the Church–my people’s confidence in their ecclesiastic estate," said His Holiness. "I believe that together with you–relying on our faith and love–we shall be able to lead our sons safely to the peaceful abode of our dreams," he continued.
After his meetings with the King of Jordan on January 16 and the Prime Minister on January 17–the Supreme Patriarch arrived in St. Thaddeus Church where he was met with cheers by the faithful.
During the Divine Liturgy–the Catholicos addressed a sermon. Speaking of cooperation among Armenia–Artsakh and the Diaspora–His Holiness said: "Our greatest desire is that our free and independent country should regain its peaceful–durable and secure life and recover its creative strength in the name of its progress through combined efforts of the entire nation. It’s time we grew even stronger and strengthened the ties between Armenia and its Diaspora–between Armenia and Artsakh in order to serve this goal."
The Supreme Patriarch granted a white marble altar cross to the church as a symbol of revival and victory.
After the Divine Liturgy–His Holiness visited the historical city of Jarash situated not far from Amman. There is an inscription referring to Armenia in the ruins of that city. Sunday–the Catholicos visited the royal palace in Amman–where he was received by King of Jordan Abdullah Bin Hussein. The Catholicos was accompanied by the Armenian Primate of Jerusalem Archbishop Torgom Manookian–Prelate of the Jordanian Diocese Archbishop Vahan Topalian–bishops Sepoukh Chuldjian and Abraham Mkrtchian.
During the meeting His Holiness remembered with appreciation and gratitude the monarchs of the Hashemit Dynasty. "The Names of Jordan and Khashemit occupy particular place in hearts of Armenia’s–since on the days when the survivors of the Ottoman massacre and persecutions–helpless and homeless–reached the desert of Jordan–prince Abdullah–whose noble name you bear–opened to them his heart–ordering the tribes that he rules to take under their protection starving refugees," His Holiness said and appealed to the Lord with a prayer to bestow peace and welfare upon hospitable Jordan.
Highly appreciating the role and merits of the Armenian community of Jordan as honest and loyal citizens of the Kingdom–His Majesty Abdullah Bin Hussein decorated the Catholicos with the highest order of Jordan.
The following day Karekin II met with prime minister of Jordan Abdu-Rauf Rauadbey. During the meeting His Holiness extended his gratitude to the Khashemit monarchs and the government of Jordan–under whose umbrella the Armenian people could retain its national and church traditions.
Praising the Armenian people–the head of the Jordanian government asked His Holiness to be a preacher of peace in the name of cooperation between religions and nations.