After many years, finally we have a Cathedral church as a pivot of hope and salvation.
On 24 September, 2016, Gyumri Armenian Catholic community celebrated the one-year anniversary of the consecration of the Armenian Catholic Cathedral Church of Holy Martyrs. It was a great event, which gave a constant direction not only to Gyumri, but also to all Armenian Catholic communities of Armenia, Georgia and Eastern Europe on their way of spiritual advancement.
24 September, 2015 became the crown and symbol of spiritual revival and development of this ordinariate. That day was also a new beginning for reformation of the community, self-organization, and re-evaluation of its own difficult path and for drawing new paths. Many Catholics living in Gyumri, began to regularly attend the Holy Mass and shared the spiritual experience of the community. Armenian Catholic community introduced itself to the country and the city with a reborn face: with a clear spiritual and national identity, deeply Armenian, and at the same time deeply catholic, fully united to the Universal Church of Christ, both in eucharistical communion, and in a full union with the Rock of the Church- St. Peter’s Holy See, in accordance with the Evangelical message of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, the Catholic communities of Armenia, after years of persecution, hatred, slander and martyrdom, stood on their own strong feet and, due to their patience, they began to walk into the arena with a new advance, recalling the words of the Apostle Paul:
“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”. (Heb. 12:2)
Few months after the historical event of consecration, when the Rock of the Church-Pope Francis-visited Armenia and saw his sheep, he reminded his predecessor St. John Paul II’s words.
“The only competition that is possible between the disciples of the Lord is making sure who is able to offer greater love”. (Gyumri, 25 July, 2016).
The existence of the Armenian Catholic Cathedral Church of Holy Martyrs in Gyumri is the fruit of the love, which Armenian Catholic communities have shown toward God, the Holy Church and their nation. The efforts of bishops, priests, religious men and women, Armenian Caritas and of many believers, who shaped the Ordinariate, speak for themselves. An appreciation of these efforts to compete in love was the Pope’s visit to Gyumri and Armenian Catholic Cathedral Church of Holy Martyrs.
On the anniversary of the consecration of the church, the parish priest of Gyumri, Fr Grigor Mkrtchyan, who was in the beginnings of the formation and constrauction of the community and made direct efforts for the construction of the church, spoke on the accomplishments of the community.
In the 1930s, when the old Catholic Church was taken from us, we became like a bird, deprived from our nest. Nevertheless, not having a church, our ancestors were able to keep their faith. The result was that, when in 1991 our diocese reopened, the first archbishop didn’t find a lost people, who having forgotten their ancestors’ faith, had left everything. Instead, he found a people, which was waiting for its pastor. The pastors came and began to shepherd their people. Thanks to our shepherds, we found again the faith our grandfathers which was seemingly forgotten during those 70 years. Today, there are many churches in Armenia’s Catholic communities, and many priest serving there for the salvation of souls.
It is happiness that we could finally build this Cathedral church. During that time I was one of the witnesses, who saw how hard our bishops were trying to build the church. Already in 2005-2008, thanks to Fr. Nshan Archbishop Garakeheyan, we managed to have this beautiful church project, but for a long time it was impossible to receive a permission for the construction. And only in 2010, with the efforts of Ordianary Vicar Fr. Vahan Ohanyan the construction of the church began, foundations were built. What a happiness it was for us!
Once again, I would like to remind the words of Jesus about the Rock. This church is built on a rock that never breaks. This Church was built not only to be a beautiful building, but first of all, for the salvation of souls and bodies.
In the Gospel we read that God takes care for sparrows, so how much more God cares about us! Church is not only a place to light a candle, but first of all it’s a place solace, comfort, and is a place to find salvation.
On this beautiful day, I congratulate all of us! After so many years, finally we had a church, as a pivot of hope and salvation and the people of our community know that, entering into this church, they find the mercy and love of God.’
Fr Grigor also remembered the words of Fr. Nerses Archbishop Ter-Nersesyan, the first bishop of the diocese, who said that he might not be able to see the foundation and consecration of the church, but he would certainly pray from Heaven for the the church to be built. The whole community is confident that this first devotee of their spiritual revival is praying for them from Heaven.
It was a great happiness for the community, that another devotee, 80-years old Nshan Garakeheyan, was also present on the one-year anniversary of the consecration of the church. The parish priest gave him the icon of Grigor Narekatsi and asked him to say a word. The Archbishop, visibly moved, addressed his fatherly speech to the nation:
“I did what was my duty. I am happy that I was present at the consecration of this church, and I am here today. Remember that this is the house of the Lord, that God is waiting for you! Remember that Jesus is in this Tabernacle, and is waiting for you to distribute His graces to you, which all of us so need today. Pray for our people, for the world peace and the salvation of the souls! God expects us to love and serve Him, and ever be worthy of seeing the Kingdom of the Heaven”.
In the construction of the church not only the clergy and the faithful have a leading role, but also the government, local authorities, constructors, the architect. Fr. Grigor thanked them all and handed the letters of blessing from Fr. Raphael Archbishop Minasyan’s to Vagharshak Hakobyan, the Deputy Mayor of Gyumri, Hovhannes Tonoyan, the Director of “Akhourian koopshin” organization, who organized the construction of the church, to Hakob Baghdasaryan, the conductor of the construction works, to the constructor Hrant Karapetyan, to the architect Hakob Jivanyan. Hovhannes Tonoyan told that it is a great honour for him to be called the constructor of this church.
One of the indicators of the revival of this community is the existence and the activity of the devoted youth. After the Holy Mass, in Aghajanyan centre, the Youth Associaction of the Catholic Cathedral Church of Holy Martyrs of Gyumri, which has about 40 young people, presented the history of the building of the church and spoke about the Pope’s visit and about many other important events, in which they have always been involved with their dedicated work and enthusiasm, which keeps steady the hope that Armenian catholic community has a bright present and future, under the guidance of the Lord.
A publication on the event of the consecration of the Church of Holy Martyrs can be found here.
Fr. Hovsep Galstyan.
Translated by Narine Galoyan