His Holiness Aram I–Catholicos of Cilicia and Moderator of the Central and Executive Committees of the World Council of Churches–set out on an ecumenical tour of three Northern European countries. During a fourteen-day trip between March 1 and 15–the delegation headed by His Holiness visited Sweden– Denmark and the Netherlands. His Holiness was accompanied by the Editor-in-chief of the official "Hask" magazine–Rev. Father Krikor Chiftjian–and by Manoushag Boyadjian–Principal of Y. Manoukian College and Lecturer in Ecumen’sm and History of Religion at the Theological Seminary of the Catholicosate.
Visit to Sweden
In Uppsala Aram I met with the newly appointed Archbishop of Uppsala–Dr. K.G. Hammar and the Director of various programs of the Church of Sweden and had lengthy discussions about issues concerning the witness of the World Council of Churches and its future perspectives–the situation of the Middle East Council of Churches and the challenges it faces at this present juncture as well as issues concerning the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia.
His Holiness was also greeted by members of the Armenian Community of Uppsala and accepted their invitation to visit the two weekly Armenian schools. He then presided over the Holy Liturgy.
The Catholicos also visited two theological seminaries and met with heir deans–faculty and students. During a visit to the Diocese of Strangas–His Holiness addressed the congregation during a Sunday workshop attended by the Lebanese Ambassador as well as some Armenian families. In honor of the Catholicos the Bishop of Strangas offered an official luncheon–attended by a number of leaders of the Church of Sweden.
His Holiness spent a day in Stockholm where he held talks with the leaders of the Swedish Mission Covenant Church and the General Secretary and staff of the Swedish Christian Council. He also visited the Development Agency of the Swedish Government where he met with the Director and the Councilor for Church Affairs. In the afternoon the Catholicos and the members of his delegation were received by the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs. The discussion touched on issues concerning the Middle East and Christian presence and witnesses there with a particular reference to the role of the Catholicosate of Cilicia. The situation in Armenia and Nagono-Karabakh was also part of the talks.
During his stay in Sweden Catholicos Aram I gave lectures in the university of Uppsala on "Contemporary Ecumencial Visions and the Future of the World Council of Churches," and "Witness and Service in Orthodox Theology today." He also met with the representatives of the Swedish press.
Visit to Denmark
On his arrival in Copenhagen–His Holiness Aram I was met by the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches.
Catholicos Aram I visited the Minister of Foreign Affairs. The Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs now heads the OSCE Commission of Foreign Ministers. Thus the issue of Karabakh was very much present during the talks.
Catholicos Aram I visited the headquarters of Danchurchaid where he was greeted by the General Secretary and Sister Kirsten Wind of the Danish Missionary Society–KMA–who founded the Birds’ Nest in Byblos and had been so instrumental in the survival of thousands of Armenian orphans. During the meeting His Holiness expressed the Armenian people’s–the Catholicosate’s and his own gratitude to the people and the Church of Denmark for the compassion and care they provided to the victims of the Genocide.
His Holiness visited the National Council of Denmark where he met with he leaders of the Baptist Church in Denmark and lectured about "Orthodox vision of witness and diakonia."
The delegation then traveled by air to Aarhus–where they were the guests of the Bishop. On March 8–Catholicos Aram I addressed the pening of the Assembly of the Danish National Council. He spoke at length about Ecumen’sm–the World Council of Churches and his own vision of the future of the ecumenical movement.
The delegation visited Aarhus University and was the dinner guest of its President Professor Dr. Henning Lehmann–a well known armenologist.
Back in Copenhagen–together with the Bishop of Copenhagen–His Holiness presided over the special Ecumencial service held in the Cathedral and he preached on the theme of the miracle of "the Five Loaves and Two Fishes." During his address he spoke of the special relationship that existed between the Church of Denmark and the Catholicosate of Cilicia–remembering with emotion and gratitude Karen Jeppe (the founder of Karen Yeppe College in Aleppo) and Maria Jacobsen (the founder of Birds’ Nest).
After the service a special reception was held during which Boyadjian introduced the Catholicosate of Cilicia–who spoke about its role and witness within the greater Armenian family–the Middle East and the Armenian Dispora at large. The delegation then visited the newly opened Armenian cultural center– where His Holiness reminded the people of the importance of loyalty to Armenian traditional values and encouraged them to be united and organise themselves as a community.
The visit to Denmark ended with an official dinner offered by the Bishop of Copenhagen and the Committee for Ecumenical Relations.
During his stay in Denmark His Holiness was interviewed by the main Danish Christian newspaper and held a press conference at the International Press Center attended by a dozen journalists interested in various subjects ranging from church and Ecumencial problems to the Peace Process in the Middle East and the visit of the Pope to Lebanon to the relations between the Diaspora and the Republic of Armenia.
Visit to the Netherlands
The last country on the agenda of this ecumenical trip were the Netherlands–where His Holiness arrived on March 10. He was met at the Airport by the General Secretary of the Netherlands Reformed Church who led him to the press room of the airport where the Catholicos gave a press conference. The main areas of concern of the journalists–print and radio–were the problems faced by the World Council of Churches and the situation in the Middle East.
His Holiness was invited to attend the meeting of the committee for the dialogue between Christians and Jews and gave information on the position of the Churches in the Middle East and on the Christian presence there.
On Tuesday–March 11–His Holiness and the delegation accompanying him spent the day in The Hague–political capital of the Netherlands. They visited the Parliament where they had a meeting with the Speaker of the House. The Catholicos then had lengthy talks with Parliament members–members of the special commission on the Middle East–the role of the Catholicosate of Cilicia in the Middle East and in the world as well as about some of the challenges faced by the people of the Middle East.
In the afternoon the delegation was granted an audience by the Prime Minister of the Netherlands–Wim Kok–who besides being the head of the Dutch Executive presidesfor the current yearon the European Commission. The talk centered around the Middle East–Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh– the place of the Catholicosate of Cilicia and the World Council of Churches. His Holiness insisted on the urgency of a just solution to the problem of Karabakh based on the respect of the right of its people to security and self determination. He spoke about the Armenian Genocide and the right of the Armenian people–about the creation of the modern Armenian Dispora and about the importance of the recognition by Turkey of its responsibility of the crime of genocide against the Armenian nation. Catholicos Aram I quoted Hitler’s famous "Afterall–who now remembers the annihilation of Armenia’s?" and underlines the fact that Turkey is still o
verlooking human rights in its dealings with the minorities living within its borders.
In the evening of that same day His Holiness met in Utrecht with leaders of the Old Catholic Church with whom he discussed issues of common and ecumenical concern.
The next day the delegation went to Amersfoort where they met with the members of the Department of International Affairs–task force on the Middle Eastern issues of the Council of Churches in the Netherlands. His Holiness gave lengthy explanations about the situation of the churches in the Middle East– about the dialogue between them and the people of other faiths as well as the position of the Churches vis-a-vis the Middle East Peace Process.
Aram I then took part in the regular meeting of the Council of Churches of the Netherlands where he gave an address on the Ecumencial situation today and the present and future prospects of the World Council of Churches.
The whole afternoon was devoted to a meeting organized by the Inter-university Institute for Missiological and Ecumencial Research–Utrecht. His Holiness Aram I–in his capacity as Moderator lectured on the World Council of Churches–its program of "Common Understanding and Vision," and the agenda of the 8th WCC Assembly in 1998 in Harare. The meeting was attended by a distinguished audience of theologians–ecumen’sts and university professors who greatly appreciated the comprehensive explanations–the prophetic stands and the scholarly approach of the lecturer.
On the last day of the visit to the Netherlands–His Holiness was received by His Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop of Utrecht–Primate of the Bishops’ Conference of the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands. Subjects of common concerns were discussed–mainly ecumenical relations–the visit of His Holiness to the Vatican and the visit in May of the Pope in Lebanon.
His Holiness visited the Reformed Cathedral of Utrecht where he took part in the Midday prayer. Then the delegation toured the Catharijne Museum for Church History and Religious Art in the Netherlands–one of the most famous Museums of its kind in Europe.
In the evening–the Catholicos addressed the opening session of the General Synod of the Netherlands Reformed Church. He spoke about the World Council and his own views about its future direction and then answered the many questions of the delegates.