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Area Armenians twice blessed

Aram I is second Apostolic Church pope to visit Pasadena this year

By Marshall Allen, Staff Writer

PASADENA — The city’s Armenian Christian community celebrated its second pontifical visit in the past four months Sunday, as a pope from the historic church consecrated a new church building in Pasadena.

While the world’s billion Catholics follow one pope, the Armenian Apostolic Church has two pontiffs. With equal authority, the popes lead two arms of the same church, sharing history and doctrine.

In June, His Holiness Karekin II, who is based in Armenia, visited St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church in Pasadena. On Sunday, His Holiness Aram I, who is based in Lebanon, led a ceremony at Pasadena’s Sarkis Armenian Apostolic Church.

Both popes visited the Los Angeles area this year to celebrate the 1,700-year anniversary of the church in Armenia, and the 1,600-year anniversary of the creation of the Armenian alphabet.

The two Armenian Catholicos date back to 1441 and are a testimony to the suffering experienced by Armenians. For centuries, Armenia has been overrun by enemies, and its people scattered to neighboring regions. The years of conflict and domination resulted in the reorganization of the church to ensure its survival, Armenian Christian leaders said.

The two branches of the Armenian Apostolic Church — called the Diocese of the Armenian Church and the Prelacy of the Armenian Church — now enjoy friendly relations. But their relationship was strained during much of the 20th century, when the Diocese in Armenia came under the control of the Soviet Union, said Raffi Hamparian, a board member of the Armenian National Committee of America.

During the Cold War, there was the impression that the church in Armenia, because of Soviet oppression, was not free to operate independently, said Hamparian, 37, who attends St. Sarkis Armenian Apostolic Church.

“For an Armenian-American born and bred on apple pie and the

First Amendment that doesn’t cut the right way,” he said.

With the fall of the Soviet Union and the establishment of an independent Armenia in 1991, the relationship between the two branches has strengthened, Hamparian said.

Now, Armenians often go back and forth between the two branches of the church, said Bo Patatian, a member of St. Sarkis who helped organize the visit of Aram I.

“The church isn’t divided, it’s diversified,” Patatian said. “Most people only have one pope. We’re blessed that God has provided us with two popes.”

In the past month, St. Sarkis Armenian Apostolic Church has been transformed in preparation of the pope’s visit. The church spent about $1.5 million on the purchase and renovation of the building, a former hall owned by the Boys and Girls Club, said the Rev. Khoren Babouchian, pastor of the church.

The church owned the building at 58 S. Sierra Madre Blvd. for about a year before completely changing its interior. It used to be dark inside, with musty carpets, church members said. But now sunlight pours into the room through broad, arched windows, on to a hardwood floor.

The renovations were performed almost completely by the Armenian community and much of the work was donated, church leaders said. The new building, combined with the visit of Aram I, has brought pride to the community, Babouchian said.

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