Armenians welcome ‘leader, servant’ head of church

Armenians welcome ‘leader, servant’ head of church

Catholicos Karekin II meets with leaders, faithful

Karen MahoneySpecial to Your Catholic Herald

RACINE – Processing behind Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, Bishop Richard J. Sklba, bishops and clergy from other faiths, and archbishops and bishops from the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Karekin II gently placed his gold, gem-stoned cross to the bowed heads of worshipers in the aisle of the Armenian Church. To the rhythmic shake of an incense-burning censer and the sound of choir-led hymns, the patriarch of the worldwide Armenian Apostolic Church blessed the gathering. Mary Andekian was among several hundred Armenian Catholics from across southeastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois who packed St. Mesrob Armenian Apostolic Church in Racine Oct. 23 to celebrate a Hrashapar service during Catholicos Karekin’s pontifical visit to the United States. A simple touch of his palm-sized cross upon her forehead, she said, delivered blessings.”Everyone who is here is touched by the Holy Spirit,” said Andekian, a life-long member of St. Mesrob. “This is a wonderful thing for all Armenians in the community. We are a part of the Church of Jerusalem, and not that many people know this.”Clad in a black shoorchar, the 56-year-old Karekin, leader of 7 million Armenian Christians, celebrated the adoration service for a congregation comprised of worshippers from the Milwaukee and Chicago Archdioceses. Speaking in English and Armenian, Catholicos Karekin urged the worshippers to protect their Armenian faith and identity and to cultivate a close connection with their motherland. “I am acquainted with the problems, worries and difficulties of the world,” he said. “I give thanks to God that my people are continuing to love as worthy sons of Christ. Our faith becomes the color of our skin. That’s why when you say Armenian we understand Christian Armenian can’t be another kind. We are a people that prays to God. Armenia is Christian and it is the Christian faith that has saved us from every kind of damage. I love God and we have been martyrs. I love God and we have gone to Golgotha, but always with the faith of resurrection because we never left our God and God never left us or left us alone in our suffering.”Present for the visit from the former Catholicos 45 years ago, choir members Rose Margosian and Alice Hazarian said that singing for the pontiff is a dream come true. “It is an honor and a privilege to sing for the Catholicos,” said Margosian, member since her birth. “He is the Holy See, like the pope in the Catholic faith.”For Hazarian, also a member since her baptism, the visit is a once-in-a-lifetime for the younger generations in her family. “We have our children and grandchildren here and they will probably not see him again in their lifetime, at least not for another 45 years,” she said. “He is here to show us his care and love toward his flock and to bring blessings from the Mother church to her children.”Elected in 1999 as the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians, this is Karekin’s second visit to the United States and first visit to the Midwest. “For us it is all about building bridges in Christianity,” said Chuck Hajunian of St. John the Baptist, Greenfield. “Christianity is about Jesus and he loves Jesus and this is all about showing Jesus’ love to others.”Born Ktrich Nersessian in Voskehat, Armenia, Catholicos Karekin was ordained a monk in 1972 and elevated to bishop in 1983. He has worked to rebuild the country after gaining its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. “He is a leader and a servant and our leaders have paid a heavy price along the way,” Hajunian said. “One of our former Catholicos was assassinated during Stalin’s reign. It is an honor to have the Catholicos here to bring blessings from Holy Etchmiadzin, our mother church.”As Catholicos Karekin prayed a blessing and presented his message to the worshippers, a few of the babies began to cry, making their presence apparent; His Holiness was undeterred and seemed to welcome the interruption. “This is a praise to God, the voices of the kids,” he said, laughing. “I am very happy the kids are here in church and they are praying in their own way with us. Later they will have their own meaningful prayers to God.”Catholicos Karekin paraphrased Luke 12:34, “Wherever your value is, there is your heart. This is true at this moment,” he said. “The value for the spiritual head are his people. My heart is with you; my heart which has love to you brought me from Armenia to America – this is a blessing, an encouragement.”Earlier, Catholicos Karekin II was welcomed at Saint Francis Seminary by Archbishop Dolan and other religious leaders. After his motorcade made its way from General Mitchell International Airport to the seminary, Archbishop Dolan greeted each member of Catholicos Karekin’s traveling group, which included several priests, primates, reporters and photographers. Following a brief stop in the seminary’s chapel, the archbishop welcomed His Holiness to Milwaukee. “I greet you on behalf of Bishop Sklba, men and women religious, our clergy and the 700,000 Catholics of southeastern Wisconsin,” Archbishop Dolan said, who referred to Catholicos Karekin as “a man of towering faith.” “We thank you for reminding us of the ancient rites of our common faith. Your visit to us is a call to joy and renewal for us all.”Catholicos Karekin then addressed the small gathering of leaders from several denominations, through his interpreter Fr. Ktrij Devejian.”I am happy to be visiting the United States on this pontifical visit,” he said. “This brings back blessed memories of my meetings with Pope John Paul II in Armenia in 2001 which opened relations and ties between our churches and close collaboration and eternal love.”We offer our thanks to God for this good and beneficial cooperation,” he continued. “We see this meeting today as a new impetus in the continuation of that reinforcement.”During his time at Saint Francis Seminary, Catholicos Karekin was introduced to Bishop Sedgwick Daniels, pastor of Holy Redeemer Institutional Church of God in Christ, members of the Milwaukee Jewish Council, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church and the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee.(Cheri Perkins Mantz contributed to this story.)

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