On February 27, 2007, the Armenian community of Calcutta had an opportunity they had not enjoyed in more than 40 years ? to greet the Catholicos of All Armenians, receive his blessing and kiss his anointed right hand. Not since the visit of Catholicos Vasken I of blessed memory to India in 1963 had the Pontiff of the Armenian Church been in this historical Armenian community. Their numbers have greatly diminished in the last fifty years; nevertheless, more than 100 Armenians from throughout West Bengal came to the Holy Church of Nazareth, located on ?Armenian Street? in Kolkata, to participate in the ?Hrashapar? service, greeting the entrance of the Pontiff into the church.
His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, was accompanied by His Eminence Archbishop Aghan Baliozian, Primate of the Diocese of Australia and New Zealand and Pontifical Legate to the Far East; His Excellency Ashot Kocharian, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Armenia to India; Mr. Haik Sookias, Jr., Chairman of the Armenian Church Committee of Calcutta and Chinsurah; Rev. Fr. Vardan Navasardian, a member of the Brotherhood of Holy Etchmiadzin currently serving in Australia; and Rev. Fr. Ktrij Devejian from the Mother See. Also in attendance were the members of the Armenian Church Committee and the students and administrators of the Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy.
During the service, His Holiness and the pontifical delegation were welcomed by Very Rev. Fr. Oshagan Gulgulian, Pastor of the Armenian Community of India, who invited Abp. Baliozian to offer his remarks and introduce the Catholicos. Abp. Baliozian spoke of the significance of the first historic visit of His Holiness Karekin II to India, and expressed his confidence that the visit of the Catholicos would infuse new life and vitality into the community?s national and cultural life, and asked His Holiness to deliver his message of blessing to the faithful.
The Catholicos of All Armenians offered his prayers of thanksgiving for his safe arrival in India and expressed his appreciation to the entire community for the warm welcome he has received. His Holiness commended the tradition-rich Armenian community of India for being the ?golden bridge? between India and Armenia for more than five centuries, bringing their great contribution to the development of mutual appreciation for one another?s cultural and societal achievements. The Pontiff also stressed the importance of this community throughout history in many national spheres, including their steadfast faith and devotion. The loyalty of the Armenians of India to Holy Etchmiadzin, the Armenian Church and to their homeland has been an example to all diasporan Armenian communities throughout the world for hundreds of years, noted His Holiness.
His Holiness concluded his message by focusing on the youth of the community ? the more than 80 young boys and girls studying in the Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy of Calcutta who have come to India from Armenia, Iran and Iraq. He stressed that these children are the true treasures of the Church, each more valuable and worthy than all of the riches and legacy created by their ancestors on these foreign yet hospitable shores, and he offered his praise and gratitude to God for the care which is being provided to them by the community.
At the end of the service, all of the faithful approached His Holiness and kissed his right hand, receiving a cross from the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin and a blessing from the Catholicos of All Armenians.
The pontifical visit to the Holy Church of Nazareth concluded with a tour of the grounds, which gave His Holiness the opportunity to personally see the many historical gravestones which rest in the courtyard of the church, some dating from 1630. The original church of Holy Nazareth was built by Armenians at the beginning of the 17th century. The current church building dates from 1724.