Head of Armenian Apostolic Church visiting Houston

Houston Chronicle, TX
Oct 20 2007

Head of Armenian Apostolic Church visiting Houston
Locals expect a large turnout for Karekin II

By RICHARD VARA

His Holiness Karekin II, the leader of the worldwide Armenian
Apostolic Church, arrives in Houston today as part of a monthlong
pastoral visit to 16 U.S. cities.

"We do expect the biggest turnout we have ever had," said Deacon
Stepan Nazarian of St. Kevork Armenian Church in west Houston.

Vreij Kolandjian, chairman of the St. Kevork parish council, and
David Onanian, chairman of the pontifical visit host committee,
estimate 4,000 to 5,000 Armenians live in Houston, with about 10
percent active in the 25-year-old church.

Karekin, 56, is the 132nd supreme patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic
Church. About 90 percent of the 3.2 million people in Armenia are at
least nominally affiliated with the church, which was established in
A.D. 301. It is considered one of the oldest Christian churches in
history.

The Catholicos, as Karekin is known, is based in Vagharshapat,
Armenia, and has led the church since 1999 after serving as a priest,
bishop and archbishop. He also took advanced theological studies in
Austria, Germany and Russia.

On his visit, he will deal with a problem that vexes the Armenian
Church and other Orthodox branches as well – the battle between
religious orthodoxy that clings to ethnic language and traditions and
American culture that emphasizes assimilation and secularization.

"Sure, we have a lot of people with ‘ian’ at the end of their names,
and (they) don’t participate in church and other Armenian
organizations," Onanian said.

But the Catholicos is reigning at a time of a revival of faith in
Armenia with hundreds of baptisms and bursting seminaries, Onanian
said. Karekin will urge a similar revival of faith and renewed
Armenian identity in congregations from New York to California, said
the Rev. Zenob Nalbandian, part-time pastor of St. Kevork.

Onanian visited Armenia in the 1970s when he was 18. He said he found
that the youth were not religious but followed religious routines.

"Ninety-five percent (of the population) did not consider themselves
Christian, and two or three generations of children had never been
brought to church." But the church has taken on a new significance
with revival directed by the Catholicos, he said.

In 1990, then-Bishop Karekin began acquiring former communist
"Pioneer Palaces" throughout Yerevan, converting them into Armenian
Church Youth Ministries Centers for religious, moral and cultural
education, according to his biography. That year, he formed the
Christian Education Center for the Armenian Church and organized
religious education classes in more than 50 public and Sunday
schools.

"What this Catholicos is doing is a template for what people in the
U.S., South America and other parts of the Middle East face with
assimilation," Onanian said.

Kolandjian and Onanian said young Americans have less interest in
their ancestral homeland and traditions, but once they approach
marriage or having children, they come back to the church.

"They look for a little bit more, and the mission of the church is to
provide it," Onanian said. "And they do."

Kolandjian agreed.

"There is a mystical need for people, wherever they are, to come back
to their roots," he said, "and it happens again and again and again."

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