Armenian Catholicos Guest of Pope Benedict XVI - May 6-10
Armenian News Network / Groong
June 23, 2008
By Ruth Bedevian
Again, as is the case when such occasions arise, admiration for the multi-national and multi-lingual mosaic of the Armenian diaspora is evident. Our group numbered almost one hundred guests (laity and bishops) traveling from the USA, South America, Europe, Russia, the Middle East, and Armenia. Local guests from the small Armenian-Italian community of Milan also made the four-hour drive from the north. The common languages spoken among us were Armenian and/or English.
We had two audiences with Pope Benedict XVI in the presence of His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians.
Pope Benedikt XVI and HH Karekin II
Used by Permission
© L'Osservatore Romano
Affirming the universal mission of both the Catholic and Armenian Apostolic churches - love and communion in Jesus Christ and commitment to brotherly love and world peace - Catholicos Karekin II also declared to the throngs of visitors, -We Armenians are a people who have survived genocide, and we know well the value of love, brotherhood, friendship, peace and a secure life. Today, many countries of the world recognize and condemn the Genocide committed against the Armenian people by Ottoman Turkey, as did the Holy See, by His Holiness Pope John Paul II of blessed memory during our fraternal visit to Rome in 2000.- He went on to condemn all genocides that have occurred throughout history and those that continue through the present day, praying that for those who yield power and authority to realize their responsibilities and recognize that denial of the crimes is equal to commission of those crimes.
A stirring a capella intonation from the Armenian liturgy reverberated throughout St. Peter's Square. The strains of -Amen Hayr Soorb, Vortit Soorb, Hoqit Soorb..." continue to echo in me. I have no words to describe this awe-filled moment! Introductions of all the groups that had come seeking their Holy Father's blessing followed with several Catholic clergy announcing each group in several languages For less than a minute, each group had its opportunity to sing, cheer, even play a few strains of music for their beloved pontiff. Pope Benedict XVI broke into a broad smile while acknowledging each group, widely extending both arms in an embracing gesture in each group's direction.
There were several other events, including a visit to the Pontifical Salesian University where His Eminence Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, Vatican State Secretary and His Eminence Walter Cardinal Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council on Promoting Christian Unity, were present to introduce and award His Holiness Karekin II with an honorary doctorate degree in "Youth Pastoral Theology" in recognition of his "fruitful work in Christian education, youth instruction and education of Armenian clergy."
St. Gregory the Illuminator
Vatican Museum Entrance
© Ruth Bedevian
A personal tour of the Vatican Museum inspired us, and an emotional scene greeted us in the north portico as we descended the stairs upon exiting. Our souls stirred at the sight of visitors queued for their entrance to the museum under the majestic and imposing sculpture of St. Gregory the Illuminator. The structure was recently blessed and unveiled. Most striking, it makes known the patron saint of all Armenians to literally thousands a day. The base of the statue is inscribed in both Armenian and Latin. We were told that an average of 10,000 visitors a day tour the Vatican Museum. Present and future generations are now under the gentle gaze of St. Gregory who founded Christianity in Armenia in 301 AD!
A visit to St. Maria Maggiore gave us the opportunity for quiet reflection and prayer. An ecumenical service at San Paulo where St. Paul's bones are entombed was a moving experience in worship as the Catholic fathers chanted in Latin and Armenian bishops sang familiar Armenian hymns. The singing of the Hayr Mer was equal in splendor to the majesty of the sanctuary. A mother with two young sons sat in front of us. She related that she lives in Rome, but is originally from Uzbekistan. She brought her boys to see and remember His Holiness. Their exhilaration humbled us. As Catholicos Karekin II led the recessional, in unison with the clergy, we rejoiced in singing Amen Hayee - the hymn for the Patriarch.
Near the end of the three-day course of events, His Holiness Karekin II hosted a dinner for several Catholic clergy and the international group of visitors at the Palazzo Colonna, a historic, palatial residence that belonged to the Colonna family and now houses an impressive art collection. It was my good fortune to sit next to Monsignor Celato who holds a position in the Oriental Studies Department and who showed keen interest in the Armenian faithful abroad. He told me that he spent four years in Turkey and it was at that time that he met and learned about Armenians. It was a memorable and enchanting evening.
How graciously we were welcomed by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and the Catholic community and how kindly was our time organized by the Milanese Armenians, in particular, by a husband and wife team, Saro and Siran Khodaveerdi. Father Geghard Vahouni, former staff bearer to the Catholicos, who is in his second year of studies in Rome, escorted our group to each event. His fluency in Italian, English and Armenian eased our way throughout the visit.
To be certain that I convey a fair reflection of these memorable days, I asked several fellow guests, "What is the most important memory that you will carry back home."
"Oh, meeting Pope Benedict XVI, of course."
"The general audience that was held in St. Peter's Square and hearing Vehapar speak before all those many, many people!"
"When Vehapar was given the honorary doctorate degree in the university by the Salesian fathers and hearing the Catholic Cardinal enumerate all the progress in education that Vehapar has accomplished since the beginning of his pontificate."
"By far, the ecumenical closing prayer service at San Paulo where Armenian sharagans were sung with the Latin chants and feeling the pride in my Armenian heritage and the unity with the Catholic Church."
Resounding sentiment expressed was the joy of being together as one committed family in the presence of two pontiffs. We were embraced in the spirit of brotherly love between our church leaders and this heralds hope for a better world.
Upon my return to the United States, I presented a Catholic friend with a set of rosary beads that were blessed by Pope Benedict XVI. He remarked, "Do you have any idea what it means to a Catholic to personally meet the Pope?" My response instantly leapt from my heart, "Have you any idea what it means for an Armenian to hear Armenian hymns sung in the majestic sanctuaries of Rome and to be blessed by the Holy Father of the Catholic world and the Catholicos of All Armenians in one day?"
-- Ruth Bedevian continues her visits in Armenia. Many of her articles are at: http://www.groong.org/orig/armeniahousemuseums.html
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