“There has always been an Armenian presence in Europe,” he said, “however during the past two or three decades the Armenian presence in Europe increased because of the political and economic situations in the Middle East, in the former Soviet countries, and in Armenia.”
He added that “It will be important to develop Armenian Church parish life where communities can come together in prayer, participate in the sacrament of the Eucharist, and organize educational, cultural and social activities. Likewise, I would like to help Armenian Church communities develop strong ecumenical and interfaith activities.”
The push for ecumenism has always been part of the Armenian Apostolic Church, according to Barsamian.
He said that “the 12th-century Armenian Catholicos/Patriarch St. Nerses the Graceful was a great champion of ecumenism, encouraging his fellow churchmen of all traditions to pursue ‘Unity in essential matters. Diversity in secondary matters. Love over all.’”
Barsamian noted that “in our world today, we too face many challenges, but also great possibilities. Dialogue, cooperation, and formal prayer among different Christian denominations are all essential to realizing those possibilities.”
Recalling Catholic-Apostolic relations, Barsamian stressed that “since the days of Catholicos Vasken I (1955-1994), relations between the Armenian and Roman Catholic churches in general have been growing stronger and deeper, with a spirit of closeness and collaboration emerging between our hierarchy and clergy.”
The current head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Karekin II, met Pope Francis twice this year: on April 5, when he went to Rome to participate in the blessing of a statue of St. Gregory of Narek in the Vatican Gardens with Pope Francis; and on Oct. 24, after a pastoral visit in Milan for the 60th anniversary of the Armenian Church of the Forty Martyrs of Sepastia.
Barsamian said that “on that occasion, the Pope and Karekin II had a very warm meeting, and discussed issues relating to the challenges faced by Christian communities in the world, and they also discussed the Middle East and the situation in the Republic of Armenia.”
Barsamian concluded that “definitely, such meetings are great opportunities to strengthen the connection between the two Churches.”
Barsamian was born in Arpkir, in Turkey, in 1951. He studied in Istanbul, Jerusalem, New York, and Minneapolis, and perfected his studies at the Gregorian University in Rome and at the Oxford Oriental Institute.
He served as a pastor in Istanbul, Jaffa, Haifa, Bamieh and in the United States, where he led for 28 years the U.S. diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
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He is also president of the Armenian Aid Fund, which aims at helping Armenia to develop and to bring assistance to Armenians. So far, the fund has donated some $315 million.