BY FLORENCE AVAKIAN
THE VATICAN — Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, former Primate of the Eastern Diocese for 28 years, has been super busy since arriving in Rome on his new assignment from Etchmiadzin by His Holiness Karekin II Catholicos of All Armenians.
Appointed by Vehapar in September 2018, as the Pontifical Legate of the Armenian Church in Western Europe, and Representative of the Armenian Church to the Holy See, he has been having meetings with high-ranking Vatican officials to strengthen the important relationship between the Roman Catholic and Armenian churches.
In relaying the appointment in a September 1st letter this year to Pope Francis, the Vehapar received the Catholic Pontiff’s response that Archbishop Khajag’s presence at the Vatican will “definitely be helpful for deepening further” the relationship between the two churches.
Archbishop Khajag was warmly welcomed to Rome by Armenia’s Ambassador to the Holy See Mikayel Minasyan whose working relationship with Archbishop Barsamian on many projects during the Armenian diplomat’s assignment in Rome for more than six years, have borne successful results for Armenia.
Also welcoming the former Primate was Armenia’s Ambassador to Italy Victoria Bagdassarian who extended a special invite to Srpazan at a concert organized by the Armenian Embassy in celebration of the 2800th anniversary of Yerevan at Rome’s Opera House.
High Level Meetings
Following his arrival at the Vatican, Srpazan has had personal meetings with Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and with Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.
His meetings with Cardinal Pietro Parolin. Secretary of State at the Vatican were especially significant. The two ecclesiastical leaders who have known and worked with each other for a long time, organized Pope Francis’ visit to Armenia, as well as the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide at St. Peter’s Basilica, at which time Pope Francis presided.
They also organized the inauguration of St. Gregory of Nareg’s statue at the Vatican, discussed the present political situation in Armenia, the condition of the Christian communities in the Middle East, and how to strengthen the Mekhitarist Congregation at St. Lazaro in Venice.
Christian Cooperation Is Essential
“The differences between churches should not be obstacles for them to cooperate and have dialogue issues relating challenges existing in the world today.
“Since the days of Catholicos Vasken I, relations between the Mother See of Etchmiadzin and the Vatican, and between the Armenian and Roman Catholic churches in general, have been growing stronger and deeper with a spirit of closeness and collaboration emerging between our hierarchy and clergy.”
“My objective in my new role in part,” he continued,” is to expand existing projects, programs and activities in order to draw the two churches together in a spirit of mutual respect and collaborative mission.”
Srpazan also relayed that in the past several years, many Armenian immigrants have emigrated from the Middle East, Turkey, Armenia and Russia to various nations in Europe. He said that he has communicated with the parish councils and Armenian ambassadors of the countries under his jurisdiction as the Pontifical Legate of the Western Europe and planned pastoral visits to these communities.
Century-Long Ecumenical Spirit
He related that the ecumenical spirit has been part of the Armenian Church for many centuries, and noted that the 12th century Armenian Catholicos St. Nersess the Graceful had been a champion of ecumenism.
“Today, in our world and society we also face many challenges, but there are also great possibilities,” he stated with emphasis.
“As always, but especially in recent years, the cooperation among different Christian denominations is essential.”
His opinion of Pope Francis? “Very pastoral, a true believer, honest, humble, simple, warm. He knows and appreciates Armenians closely, and is a close friend of Armenian Primate of Argentina Archbishop Kissag Mouradian who was my classmate at the seminary of the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem.”
Archbishop Khajag related that as a symbol of his closeness to the 80,000 strong Armenian community in Argentina, Pope Francis placed an Armenian “khatchkar” in the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Buenos Aires.
Archbishop Barsamian continued saying “During the past years I have developed close relationship with the Catholic leadership in US and also in Vatican. I am commited to continue those relationships for the good of both churches and for the good of the world. I am grateful to Vehapar for giving me the possibility to continue my ministry in this new role”.