Primate celebrates anniversary in Illinois

Department of Communications
Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern)
630 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10016
Contact: Jake Goshert, Coordinator of Information Services
Tel: (212) 686-0710 Ext. 160; Fax: (212) 779-3558
E-mail: [email protected]

December 4, 2006


Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church
of America (Eastern), traveled to Belleville, IL, on November 12, 2006, to
join the parishioners of the Holy Virgin Mary and Shoghagat Church in
celebrating the 50th anniversary of the parish.

The original parish began in 1956 in East St. Louis, IL, and the community
built its new sanctuary in Belleville in 1978.

"This is an intent and focused community," said the Primate. "They have
created a solid foundation for their community, building a beautiful
sanctuary that is reflected in the spirituality present in their homes."

The Primate celebrated a joyful Divine Liturgy on November 12, which was
followed by a banquet. The night before, he led the blessing of a new
khatchkar from Armenia and memorial garden designed to commemorate the

With the memorial garden, the parish hoped to sell 100 bricks, instead they
sold 227 and raised $67,000, including a generous donation of $20,000 from
Dr. Raffi and Lydia Krikorian.

"That $67,000 is a lot for a small community," said one of the anniversary
celebration organizers, Zabelle Vartanian. "But our parish is very strong
in faith. We’re small in number, but strong in resolve."

One of the exciting aspects of the weekend, Vartanian said, was the make-up
of the committee organizing the events.

"The committee was composed of many of our younger people, the ones that
need to step up to the plate now and take over," she said. "They worked
very hard and we had many younger people in the audience, who were moved.
So now we have to work to make sure that spirit remains and continues."

Joining the Primate at the banquet in Belleville were several clergymen with
ties to the community. Fr. Yeprem Kelegian, pastor of the St. Mesrob Church
of Racine, WI, began his ministry as deacon-in-charge of the church in
Belleville. Also attending was Fr. Diran Papazian, who once served as the
visiting pastor of the parish, a duty now performed twice a month by Fr.
Abraham Ohanesian. When he’s not there, the parish’s deacon, George
Marifian, performs services.

The parish has changed and evolved over time as well, moving from its
initial home in East St. Louis and welcoming new waves of immigrants as the
face of the Armenian community in America changed.

Today, the parish is home to a diverse yet small community of about 70
families who regularly attend services.

There is a lot of work and coordination for the small community, but it is
all worth it, Vartanian said. As the parish marked its anniversary,
Vartanian said, the hard work and effort to keep the Armenian Christian
faith alive was worth it even more.

"We’re a very small community and basically a handful of people are there
every week doing most of the work to keep our parish going. So it is a
major accomplishment that the parish has survived," she said. "Our
anniversary is a testimony to the people here who help make sure the church
is maintained."

"In my opinion, and the way I have been nurtured, the church is our home,"
she added. "It is our cultural lifeline. It is not only the religious
home, but it is also the cultural home. People know that to keep our
Armenian culture alive we need the church."

Speaking for the next generation was Nicole Vartanian, who was a guest
speaker of the program and spoke about the importance of maintaining the
Armenian Christian faith and heritage.

— 12/04/06

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