By Alin K. Gregorian
BOSTON — About 800 people gathered at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross of the Boston Catholic Archdiocese, on Saturday, April 23, for the first-ever ecumenical service commemorating “the Holy Saints and Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide.”
The head of the Boston Roman Catholic Archdiocese, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, was accompanied by dignitaries from various churches and organizations, including Archbishop Khajag Barsamian of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan of the Prelacy of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), as well as clergy from all local Armenian Churches, and heads of the local Eastern Catholic Churches, and others for the service, titled “Remembrance, Witness, and Resurrection.”
“It is a special day to welcome so many of our Armenian brothers and sisters and Rev. Laura Everett,” the executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, as well as the many Armenian pastors, O’Malley said.
The service started with mournful music of the Armenian duduk, setting the mood for a somber ceremony. Welcoming those assembled, Vito Nicastro, the associate director of the Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the Archdiocese, thanked all those present and said that the day’s events were dedicated to those who have suffered genocide and mass murder, including the Armenians, of course, the Pontic Greeks, as well as the victims of the Holocaust and now ISIS.
“Thanks for coming together to honor those who have fallen victim to the Medz Yeghern,” he said.
In his homily, O’Malley said it was his “immense pleasure” to meet with Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II when the latter had visited Boston.
O’Malley, who has served as an advisor to Pope Francis, said that the latter had visited San Lazzaro, the Armenian island monastery outside Venice belonging to the Mkhitarist Catholic Brothers.
He urged that his parishioners and others to fight blindness and stop judging people by appearances. He called apathy “spiritual Alzheimer’s” and said, “even though at times we forget about God, God never forgets about us. Our faces are engraved on the palms of God’s hands.”
He added, “Our goal is to pass on the Gospel to the next generation. We must never forget how much God loves us.”
The then spoke about the Armenian Genocide, saying that “the love and power of God is stronger than death.”
Similarly, he urged that the events not be forgotten “so that the future is safer.”
He recited Hitler’s famous quote, in which he said he expected the mass killings that he was about to launch against the Jews should not cause a problem since the Armenians were similarly wiped out earlier without causing a global outcry. “If the world had reacted differently to the Armenian Genocide, would the Holocaust of World War II have been averted,” O’Malley asked.
He added, “No true civilization can afford to falsify its historical record.”
O’Malley then spoke about the current onslaught of ISIS and other groups and urged that everyone speak up about the victims. O’Malley recited the quote by the late Martin Niemoller, the Protestant pastor who spent seven years in a concentration camp during World War II because of his activities against the Nazi rule.
“Today we are all Armenian,” he said. “We must learn to see human suffering with the eyes of compassion.”
Similarly, he praised the visit of Pope Francis to the island of Lampedusa, off the coast of Sicily, where he met and prayed with migrants from Syria and Iraq who had barely survived the crossing. Many had fled simply because they were Christian and were targets.
“Unity is a gift we need to ask for,” he said to fight the systematic attacks Christians face in the Middle East, Egypt and India.
As part of his prayer, Barsamian said, “You are the Light to be praised, the holy and first Light. Darkness flees from you. Let your living light dawn in our hearts, Lord.”
Choloyan, in his prayer, said, “O Lord Our God, hear our voices and receive our requests, the lifting up of our hands, and the words of our prayers as you sanctify this evening offering that we have prepared as a sweet fragrance for your pleasure.”
All those gathered recited a prayer for “intercession of the Holy Armenian Martyrs,” in which they asked, “Hear us from your holy and heavenly realm by the intercession of the holy Mother of God and by the prayers of all your saints, especially the holy martyrs who gave their lives during the Armenian Genocide for faith and for the homeland, whom we commemorate today.”
Several hymns were performed by a large chorus composed of members of Armenian choirs, led by Artur Veranian.
A reception followed in the Cathedral High School Gymnasium.