A scrapbook documenting the first pontifical visit of a Catholicos to the United States was donated to the Western Diocese Museum by Diramayr Anna Movsesian. At the invitation of Diocesan Primate, Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, a special presentation program took place on the evening of August 16 at the Hampar Room of the Western Diocese.
Before a standing-room-only crowd, Diramayr shared memories and feelings when His Holiness Vazken I, of Blessed Memory, first visited the United States in the summer of 1960. She spoke briefly about the experience of growing up in America. Born in Chelsea Massachusetts to Genocide survivors, she remembered the early days of the developing Armenian diaspora. In 1960, newly married with two children at the time, and her husband Varougan just graduating Pharmacy School at USC, they had the opportunity to meet His Holiness in Los Angeles and travel to Fresno and San Francisco for this historic visit. Along the way she clipped newspaper stories and collected pictures which document Catholicos Vazken’s unprecedented journey throughout the Western United States and the various Armenian communities.
Her remarks were on a personal level as well. She recounted an ornate cross-holder which she had hand-sewn for the Catholicos. She presented it to His Holiness in San Francisco during the visit. It was this same cross-holder which 17 years later the Catholicos used to bless her son after being ordained a deacon in Holy Etchmidzin.
Diramayr Anna concluded her remarks by reciting a poem which she had written at the time. Entitled “D’khur Ararat” (=sad Ararat) she describes the emotional ties between the Armenian community in diaspora and the sacred land of Armenia. Needless to say, the rendition of this poem was met with thunderous applause by those in attendance.
The second portion of the evening was devoted to viewing the Scrapbook. Diramayr’s son, Fr. Vazken Movsesian explained the significance and importance of the book, accented with enlarged slides of the scrapbook. The year was 1960, he explained. The Cold War was at its height. McCarthyism was more than a memory, it had affected so many lives and the Armenian Church was the victim of the false allegations capitalizing on the fear-mongering that came with the McCarthy era. And in that mix, the Catholicos of All Armenians, in the person of His Holiness Vazken I, came to America. The value of this scrapbook is heightened because it documents the words and expressions of His Holiness as heard by the Western Press. Here was a true Christian religious leader who was talking about loyalty to the United States and the importance of integrity and dignity. He also shared the pain of the schism within the Armenian Church stating, “Politics are temporary but the Church is eternal.”
Fr. Vazken also shared the story of His Holiness refusal to celebrate the Liturgy at the Shrine Auditorium while his Armenian Church – St. James just down the street – remained empty. The documentation in the scrapbook graphically describes the congestion and mass-transport of thousands to the church on Adams Blvd.
In his remarks at the conclusion of the presentation, Archbishop Hovnan Derderian expressed his gratitude for this scrapbook and welcomed it as a valuable addition to the Diocesan museum and library collection. Said the Primate, “It was most impressive to hear Diramayr Anna Movsesian share what she felt from the depth of her heart, when for the first time she met the Catholicos of All Armenians during his visit to North America and the State of California. This historic visit of Vazken I touched her heart as a young Armenian mother, she felt that this Catholicos was reaching out to his flock, to embrace and unify them under the umbrella of the Armenian Church. All of us enjoyed and are spiritually empowered by the memories of Diramayr Anna Movsesian. The evening was nostalgic, in particular reviving in our hearts the memories of the past. However, we are reminded again this evening that Vazken Vehapar is not only a memory but a presence in our lives.”
Among those in attendance at the presentation were His Eminence Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian, who along with clergy offered the requiem prayer in memory of His Holiness Vazken I. Also attending were were Deacon Allen Jendian and Hrair Shekerdjian, who were both part of the ACYO Central Council in 1960, meeting and greeting the Catholicos and documented in this scrapbook. According to Archbishop Hovnan Derderian next year, as we commemorate the 25th anniversary of the passing of the Venerable Catholicos Vazken I, this book should be published for distribution to the faithful.