His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia will make a Pontifical Visit to the West Coast beginning September 30 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his consecration and service as Catholicos.
Recently, Asbarez’s Nane Avagyan discussed the visit and the activities of the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia with Vanna Kitsinian, Esq. who is the Commissioner representing the Holy See at the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism. Below is the interview.
NANE AVAGYAN: On the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the consecration of Aram I, how do you describe his work and activities?
VANNA KITSINIAN: Foremost, I view His Holiness Aram I as a supreme spiritual leader. Through the numerous challenges we experience as a people, the Catholicos has demonstrated a profound ability to change our perceptions and restore our vision and hope, while creating an atmosphere that is filled with goodness and peace. Through his sermons shared via the world wide web and his written “Dialogues with the Youth,” he guides us to discover our own purpose. By sharing his messages and insight, even from afar, he leads others into transformation. He is unequivocal when it comes to identifying our priorities as a larger community and people. And because his leadership is based on values, he in turn imparts value and helps shape our values according to what God values.
Secondly, his remarkable decades-long leadership in the WCC work has brought the Armenian Church into the international arena and worldwide stage. Through his many years of devoted service in the WCC, he has strengthened ecumenical, cultural, social, as well as political relationships with church and world leaders, who in turn have become closely familiar with not only our historic church and church teachings, but also our nation and people as a whole. In working to create tolerance and confidence between Muslin and Christian communities in the Middle East, and through his leadership in the Middle East Council of Churches, he has emerged as a voice of reason and a broker of peace between people of different religious and cultural backgrounds. This is especially challenging considering the current upheavals facing humanity throughout the world. He is a well-respected figure that has proven his ability to transcend beyond the boundaries of his own church and connect with people of all different backgrounds. In doing so, he has shined a bright light on the very first nation to embrace Christianity as their state religion and has introduced masses of people throughout the world to who we are and what we stand for.
Third, His Holiness Aram I is the bravest leader of the Armenian Diaspora. The Catholicos has a unique and strategic posture in approaching and responding to Pan-Armenian interests that are important to every Armenian living throughout the world. He is a constant and audible voice who advocates Armenia-Diaspora cooperation and works towards and reminds us of the oneness of our centuries-old Armenian Apostolic Church. He is outspoken when it comes to the necessary steps we must take to ensure the survival of our homeland, to matters of paramount interest such as the need for recognition of and fight for reparations for the Armenian Genocide, to defending the human rights of Armenians both inside and outside of the homeland, to the preservation of our ancient churches and monuments all over the world, to defending the right to sovereignty of the people of Artsakh, to the plight of Syrian Armenians in war-torn Syria (as he was to Lebanese Armenians during the civil war in Lebanon), and every issue in between. By his words and his deeds, His Holiness reminds us that we each have a responsibility to be a soldier for our nation and the best way he teaches us how is by example.
Most of all, however, I consider His Holiness a great teacher. What makes him a great teacher is his ability to combine three important parts of him – the spiritual, intellectual, and emotional. These three spheres are interwoven into one and come through in any person’s interaction with the Catholicos. Of course, His Holiness holds a Masters, a PhD, and several numerous honorary degrees from various universities around the world. However, being a great teacher is not simply about sharing one’s intellect, but getting people to think about what they think, and most importantly, asking questions about it. As a teacher, His Holiness inspires. He challenges us, especially the youth, to think by asking great questions, inviting us to dig deeper, to inquire, awakening in us a desire to learn and to feel invested. And just like that, you feel a sense of community and a sense of belonging. Alternatively, the Catholicos himself is a self-professed student for life and has no fear in learning new strategies and perspectives while teaching us.
N.A.: How do you evaluate the Catholicos’s way of involving the youth in the Catholicosate’s activities and how do you see Aram I’s approach to the youth in general?
V.K.: The Catholicos has a unique approach toward the youth which is one of the key reasons I became involved in the church myself. In His Holiness’ view, the youth have a special role in “being the church” and should serve as agents of transformation to ensure the church’s vitality and renewal. I found his belief that our church should open up to “the other” very progressive and refreshing. The Catholicos realizes that the church must empower the youth, otherwise they will find spaces outside of the church to create their own networks to express their concerns and visions. He has always inspired the youth to become active participants in transforming the ecumenical movement, not merely as followers but as leaders involved in the decision-making process. This is the reason that whenever the Catholicos makes a pontifical visit to any region, he insists on meeting with the youth personally to engage in open dialogue with them to hear their concerns. He understands well that the problems of the youth are also the problems of the church.
N.A.: How did your involvement start with the World Council of Churches begin and was the Catholicos leading your activities?
V.K: In 2005, during His Holiness Aram I’s Pontifical visit to the Western United States, The Catholicos consecrated and blessed Pasadena’s St. Sarkis Church. During that time period, I had the opportunity to closely engage with the Catholicos. Alongside witnessing his public addresses to the larger community, I was fortunate to be present at more intimate gatherings with His Holiness where he spoke passionately about the many causes close to his heart, one of which was ecumenism. At that time, I was unfamiliar with what the ecumenical movement was so naturally, I conducted research on this topic on my personal time. I came to learn that the overall goal of the ecumenical movement is to achieve Christian unity. I also learned that our Armenian Church, particularly the Holy See of Cilicia, has not only been actively involved in the ecumenical movement via the World Council of Churches (WCC) since 1962, but has held leadership positions in the WCC. His Holiness Aram I has served as Moderator, the highest elected position in the WCC for two unprecedented terms from 1991 through 2006.
Through ongoing discussions with His Holiness and based on my newfound interest in our church’s mission and activism, His Holiness invited me to Brazil to serve as part of his delegation to the World Council of Churches General Assembly in 2006. Having been a very positive experience and one which I had much more to learn about, His Holiness then appointed me an ecumenical youth representative of the Holy See from the Western Region, a position which I have been serving since. This was a great honor for me, as I had always been fascinated with our church’s history and had great respect for the Holy See of Cilicia, having grown up hearing stories of how my ancestors hailed from the very place where the historic seat of the Cilician Catholicsate was located – Sis. His Holiness has been overseeing my ecumenical involvement, as he does with the other youth who serve the Holy See to pass on his unique insight and wisdom in preparing the next generation of lay church representatives.
Thereafter, from 2006 through 2013, I was appointed as a Commissioner on the WCC’s Commission of Churches for International Affairs, representing the Holy See of Cilicia. As a Commissioner, I served on a special advisory board that dealt primarily with advising the WCC on matters of public policy and advocacy in issues that underline injustice and social transformation, with a special emphasis on the aim of promoting a peaceful and reconciling role of religion in conflicts and the promotion of inter-religious dialogue as a framework for community building.
Since 2013, I have been representing the Holy See as a Commissioner for the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism, of which the main objective is to empower churches in their mission work. In this capacity, I am a part of a working group on evangelism and authentic discipleship, which has under its purview issues dealing with changing power structures that keep people marginalized and various issues dealing with peace and justice. These are just some of the issues that the Catholicosate deals with on a global scale. These experiences have truly been formative for me, as I have been given the privilege to listen and learn from His Holiness and his lifelong experience in the ecumenical movement.
N.A.: What is your message on the occasion of Aram I’s visit to the United States?
V.K.: The purpose of His Holiness’ visit is to celebrate the more than 20 years of selfless exemplary service that the Catholicos has given to our Nation as Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia. It is also an occasion for us all to get closer to our faith, which ultimately brings us closer to our own selves. People have so many concerns, questions, and challenges that they often can’t overcome alone. The Catholicos’s visit to our community affords us a unique opportunity to share those concerns and perhaps in the process, strengthen our faith and help us cope with the harsh realities facing each of us every day. Joining together to welcome our Pontiff and be in his presence is also a physical expression of our unity as an Armenian community, which we are in need of more so than ever before. Personally, hearing his messages and receiving his blessings have always enriched my life and renewed my energy to be a better person, a better Christian, and of course, a better Armenian.