Catholicosate of Cilicia
Antelias - Lebanon
28-29 July 2016. During the past five years of the conflict in Syria, the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia, with the guidance of His Holiness Aram I, has accompanied the Armenian communities in Syria through prayers and messages, while providing humanitarian assistance and raising funds in the diaspora. All assistance to Armenians in Syria through the Catholicosate has been organized in cooperation with the Prelacy of Peria (Syria), the lay leadership and the Armenian Catholic and Protestant churches.
On Thursday morning, His Holiness Aram I began a pastoral visit to the coastal region of Syria to meet the community and listen to their stories of suffering and internal displacement; he assured them of the solidarity of the Church. A delegation, included Very Rev Housig Mardirossian, Director of Ecumenical Relations and Communication Departments, Very Rev Torkom Donoyan, Dean of the Seminary, and two members of the National Executive Council, Messrs Ara Demirdjian and George Shahinian, accompanied the Catholicos.
At the Lebanese-Syrian boarder, Archbishop Shahan Sarkissian, Primate of the Diocese of Peria (Syria), local officials and community representatives welcomed the Catholicos and his delegation and accompanied them to Latakia.
In Latakia as the church bells of the historical St Mary’s Armenian Church chimed, Rev Ardak Arabian, the spiritual counsellor, the parish priests, and the local and internally displaced faithful welcomed the Catholicos. After canonical prayers and blessings, His Holiness addressed the people and reminded them that the Arab Muslim and Christian communities of Syria had welcomed their ancestors during the Armenian Genocide and helped them settle as citizens. In return, Armenians had contributed to the flourishing and welfare of Syria, based on the values of love and respect. Today, he added, Syria needs to heal Christian-Muslim relations and recover its national unity. He asked the community to work towards this end and expressed the solidarity of the Catholicosate of Cilicia.
After prayers, people gathered at the ‘Ararat’ community Centre. The Catholicos received the greeting of Christian and Muslim representatives and other officials. After the guests left, the Catholicos greeted the people and prayed for the victims who have lost their lives in Aleppo, Kessab and other regions of the country, and assured the people of the Catholicosate’s continuing support. He then spent time talking to the people, hearing their stories and blessing them.
During lunch, Catholicos Aram I met with the clergy and lay leaders of the Armenian community in Latakia and Kessab, received their reports, thanked them for their service and assured them of his support.
His Holiness and his delegation, left for the historical Armenian region and town of Kessab, where they were met by the parish priests, the deacons, the choir members and the people. Following canonical prayers, Archbishop Shahan Sarkissian welcomed the Catholicos and invited him to address the faithful. In his address, he thanked the Armenian spiritual and community leaders, including the Catholic and Protestant churches in Syria, for working together and taking care of the people in the coastal region. He then urged the population not to leave the region and reminded them of Jesus’ words, "Don't be afraid; just believe” (Luke 8:50). He also thanked Archbishop Shahan for his devotion and service to the people, in the face of difficult circumstances, which, the Catholicos said, is the living expression of the vocation of the clergy of the Catholicosate of Cilicia.
His Holiness then met the children from Aleppo at the Summer Camp organized by the Diocese and the participants of the Summer Youth Camp of the community. He encouraged the youth to serve the community and help build the future. The Catholicos concluded his day with a meeting with the representatives of parish councils and community organizations. He received their reports, listened to their problems and discussed future projects.
On Friday 29th, the Catholicos left Kessab for Tartous, where he was received at St. Daniel Greek Orthodox Church by the priest Rev Arsenios Lahham, the Armenian parish priest, Rev Yeznik Zeghchanian and the newly settled community of internally displaced families from different regions of Syria. After canonical prayers at St Daniel Church, Archbishop Shahan introduced the new community. Addressing the members of the community, the Catholicos spoke of the difficulties they have been facing since leaving their homes in Aleppo, Rakka, Aramo, Qamishli, Hassake, Der Zor, Yacoubieh, Ghenemieh and other areas. He announced the decision to build a church and the determination to help them organize their community lives again. The Catholicos then greeted the people, heard individual problems, encouraged them to safeguard the moral and ethical values of the church and safeguard their Armenian identity.
His Holiness plans to continue his pastoral visit and to meet the other members of the community in other regions of Syria.