The most important thing is the Christian feelings of the people. Being with them, one realizes that atheism never became a part of their lives. One need only hear the story of the church in the nearby village of Metzepasar.
Metzepasar is a Catholic village. Since the last Catholic priest was killed in 1921, the village was without a pastor. In place of a priest, an old woman would gather the people to church, don vestments and lead the community in prayer. This is how they kept their faith alive.
Before the earthquake the people of the village tried to restore their ancient church. But Metzepasar was among the areas affected by the quake and the church was almost completely destroyed. When Caritas Italy offered humanitarian assistance to the village, the only request from the local people was for help to rehabilitate their church. An Italian architect worked with the villagers for a year, and the church has been brought back to its original beauty.
Cardinal Silvestrini was so moved by the villagers tenacity and faith, he offered as a personal gift an altar and a bell for the church.
That night we went hack to the hospital and slept there, as there are no hotels in the area.
On our way back to Yerevan the following day, we visited Panik, another Catholic village. Father Gomidas Oundjian, another Mekhitarist who arrived there only a few months before, received the delegation according to the ancient Armenian tradition: people in traditional dress lined the entrance of the village as two little girls offered a greeting of bread and salt to the guests.
Until today Armenian Catholics have been called Franks, said the local Armenian Apostolic bishop, referring to those missionaries who passed through Armenian lands and converted some Armenians to Catholicism. It is time to see things positively. They are our Christian brothers, and we are all Armenians.
The delegation was invited to a late picnic lunch in an apple orchard while the local choir sang Armenian and Italian songs. Young ladies danced in their traditional costumes. Everything was perfect. The people gave more than they really could afford.
Tired, we arrived late that night in Yerevan, our last night.
The next morning we met with Catholicos Vasken I, the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, in the holy city of Etchmiadzin.
The 83-year-old Vehapar (meaning His Holiness) was very pleased with our visit, and recalled his momentous visit with Pope Paul VI in May, 1970. He said that the new political situation in what was once the Soviet Union favors the growth of the Church; for example, it allows for the opening of formerly closed churches. Catholicos Vasken urged Cardinal Silvestrini to work in the spirit of ecumenism, respecting Armenias heritage and national traditions.
Catholicos Vasken called the recent turn of events the resurrection of Christ. After 70 years of slavery, the Church is risen.
We are breathing the new breath of freedom, the Catholicos continued. His words remarkably echoed the popes thoughts to the people of Armenia her rebirth must be built upon truth, love and unity.
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Sarkis Boghjalian is a program coordinator for the Association.
Tags: Cultural Identity Catholic Armenia Turkey Armenian Apostolic Church