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Bishop to pay visit to Toronto

Bishop to pay visit to Toronto
Armenian leader last here in '01

20,000 in Toronto prepare welcome

Toronto Star
Sep. 29, 2005


The spiritual leader of Armenians throughout the world is coming to Toronto.

And nowhere was it more evident yesterday than in an unlikely bastion of 
Armenian pride wedged between Highway 401 and the strip malls, high-rises 
and office buildings that flank Victoria Park Ave.
While a trio of women potted fresh flowers outside St. Mary Armenian 
Apostolic Church, another dozen or so busied themselves inside, cleaning and 
freshening up the building.

Aram I, chief bishop and supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, 
arrives in Toronto Friday for a six-day visit.

In a room tucked inside the church's basement, Meghrig Parikian is holding 
his excitement in his hands. The priest has prepared a book with a golden 
cover to commemorate the visit.

"It's in Armenian," he says, opening it. "But you can get an idea with some 
of the pictures."
And so the Lebanese-born Parikian takes his time, lingering over every 
picture of the holy man that was once his teacher.

As the pages turn, so does Aram's life, from a boy on a bicycle in Lebanon, 
where Aram and the church's headquarters are based today, to student, to 
leader of the Armenian Orthodox faith.

The later pages tell of a peacemaker  -  a man standing alongside everyone 
from Pope John Paul II and the Archbishop of Canterbury, to world leaders 
from France to Ethiopia. The Catholicos of Cilicia, as he is formally 
called, serves as moderator of the central and executive committees of the 
World Council of Churches, and is renowned for reaching across faiths, a 
tireless builder of bridges.

In Armenia, which in the early fourth century became the first nation to 
declare Christianity its official religion, there's still a lot of peace to 
be made. Years after breaking loose from the Soviet Union in 1991, the 
country has yet to reconcile with its long history of oppression.

During what's come to be known as the Genocide of 1915, millions of 
Armenians were rounded up by the Turkish government, worked to death or 
marched into the open-air coffin known as the Syrian Desert. Not long after, 
the region fell under Soviet control.

Although the Soviet era has long ended, the people of Armenia face an 
uncertain democracy under the heavy-handed regime of President Robert 
Kocharian. Allegations of corruption and brutality have dogged his 
presidency, spurring about a million people to leave the country, mostly for 
Russia, since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Which brings one burning question to mind. Why visit Toronto  -  twice, even, 
since 2001?

After all, the city's Armenian community of 20,000 is tiny compared with 
some in the U.S.
"Canada is considered one of the most active diasporas around the world, 
with its religious activities and achievements," explains Aris Babikian, a 
volunteer at the Armenian Community Centre who is helping co-ordinate the 
Catholicos's visit. "That's why Canada is always considered an important 
stop for any Armenian religious or political leaders."

Indeed, the community's little patch in North York, where Aram will lead 
services on Sunday, has expanded since the leader's last visit. Most 
notably, there's a new Orthodox high school across from the church and 
community centre.

A tour, Parikian said, will most certainly be in order.

But at the moment, Parikian is just finishing his picture tour of Aram's 
life. Before closing the book, he lingers on an image of his mentor offering 
a candid grin to a little boy in his arms.

"He so loves kids," Parikian says. "And I love this picture so much."


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