Los Angeles Pontifical Banquet Draws over 1 200 People Including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

Inspired by His Holiness–surprise donation of $1,000,000 made to Western Prelacy

LOS ANGELES–The Los Angeles Armenian American community joyously hosted a Pontifical banquet for His Holiness Aram I–Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia–on Sunday–October 9–drawing a capacity crowd of over 1,200 people from all segmen’s of the community. In addition to the many prominent members of the Los Angeles Armenian American community–also attending were Gagik Kirakosian–Consul General of the Republic of Armenia–Charbel Wehbi–Consul General of Lebanon and several high-level public officials including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa–State Senator Chuck Poochigian–members of Congress and other city officials.

In addition to honoring His Holiness–the banquet also served as a forum to thank the many large church benefactors who have recently made donations to the Western Prelacy to advance several large-scale projects underway–especially the construction of the new Western Prelacy headquarters building in La Crescenta–California.

Charlie Gailian was the banquet’s Master of Ceremonies and one of the first words of appreciation were for John and Asdghig Bedrosian who underwrote the cost of the entire banquet–aside from making other major contributions to the Western Prelacy. The welcoming remarks were made by Ara Bedrosian–a member of the Public Relations Committee for the Pontiff’s visit who was followed by Khajag Dikijian–from the Western Prelacy Executive Council–who outlined the themes of the visit and the many important leadership roles His Holiness plays throughout the world. Hrair Balian–the chairman of the Executive Council offered a toast to His Holiness stating that this visit will usher in a new era of expanded activity for the church in the western United States. Eastern Prelate Oshagan Choloyan gave brief remarks and said that His Holiness–through his multi-faceted work beyond the Armenian community–has earned our church a special place on the world stage. California State Senator Chuck Poochigian took to the podium to welcome His Holiness and thank him for re-energizing the community with his visit and offered a special proclamation from the state senate recognizing his visit on the occasion of his 10th anniversary of being elected Catholicos.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa briefly addressed the banquet and expressed his deep appreciation for the opportunity to meet His Holiness and respect for the important role the church plays in the life of the city. While the Mayor met privately with His Holiness briefly that evening–Mayor Villaraigosa said he looked forward to the official meeting he will have with His Holiness at City Hall on October 14 along with the rest of the City Council.

His Holiness shared many important thoughts during his remarks at the banquet. He first recognized the Consul General of Lebanon explaining the important role the country has played for him while growing up there and noted that Lebanon is not just a country but a living message of how people of different cultures and religions must learn to live with each other. He then directed his remarks to the Consul General of Armenia by stating that "while we in the diaspora were not born in Armenia–however Armenia was born inside us and lives in each of our souls." He said that over the course of the past many decades–the diaspora kept the hopes of freedom alive for Armenia and has struggled for the Armenian Cause and a free–independent–and united Armenia. The Great House of Cilicia in Antelias has played its part in this struggle by keeping the Armenian yerakouyn (tri-color) waving and to this day works hard to help rebuild Armenia’stated His Holiness.

The Catholicos then focused on the theme of values and community service. He said–"people come and go–but values remain" and for that reason it is important that we live life with high moral values always seeking to unite together to build our communities and build bridges of understanding and trust. "Positions don’t elevate people but rather people elevate positions," he said. In that context he also noted that the Great House of Cilicia always seeks close collaboration with the Holy See in Etchmiadzin to reinforce our national values and faithfulness by serving the people. "While we are physically in Antelias–we live outside Antelias," stated His Holiness. "Antelias is alive in each of us."

Inspired by His Holiness–one of the highlights of the evening was the surprise donation of $1,000,000 by Khachik and Elo Mouradian to establish an endowment fund for the Western Prelacy. This added to the generosity of the many other major benefactors who were recognized during the evening by the Catholicos for their major contributions including Mr. and Mrs. John and Asdghig Bedrosian and Carolan Family for contributing $250,000 each; Mr. and Mrs. Dikran and Zarouhie Der Ghazarian–Mrs. Ashkhen Pilavjian–Mrs. Rose Kasimian–Forest Lawn Memorial Parks–Mr. and Mrs. Osko and Yeran Karghossian and Mr. and Mrs. Krikor and Kohar Sulahian all of whom made donations in excess of $100,000 each.

To honor some of the benefactors for their exemplary contributions to the Western Prelacy building fund and to various schools and community centers–His Holiness presented special medals of honor including the "Cilician Eeshkhan (Prince)" medal to Mrs. Ashkhen Pilavjian for her sponsorship of the ARS preschool at Holy Martyrs in addition to recent contribution to the Western Prelacy building; and "Cilician Asbed (Knight)" medals to Mr. and Mrs. Sarkis and Susan Kitsinian for their contribution to the Pasadena St. Sarkis Church–Mr. and Mrs. Krikor and Kohar Sulahian–Mr. and Mrs. Tony and Eileen Keusseyan–Mr. and Mrs. Osko and Yeran Karaghossian and Mr. and Mrs. Varant and Houri Melkonian all for their various contributions to the Western Prelacy building fund and other endeavors. His Holiness also presented a special cross to Father Nareg Shrikian for his more than 50 years of service to the church and community.

Representatives from many of the major organizations in the Armenian community of Los Angeles were in attendance including the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Central Committee and Bureau–the Armenian Relief Society–the Homenetmen–Armenian General Benevolent Union–the Board of Regents of Armenian Schools–National Representative Assembly of the Church and the Executive Council of the Western Prelacy. Also present were clergy from various churches including a representative of the Diocese. Other officials in the audience included various Armenian American judges and city officials including Glendale Mayor Rafi Manoukian and City Councilman Ara Najarian.

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