Visit From the Armenian Pontiff

Breakfast Reception,
February 4, 1996

Karekin I, pontiff to Armenian Catholics, at left, is greeted by Metropolitan News Company Vice President S. John Babigian outside MNC's Los Angeles offices. In background is former California Gov. George Deukmejian.

Karekin I is welcomed also by MNC President Jo-Ann W. Grace. Waiting to greet pontiff is former Los Angeles County District Attorney Robert Philibosian.

Armenian American lawyers and judges About 40 Armenian American judges and lawyers were granted an audience by the Armenian pontiff at the Metropolitan News Company offices. The pointiff spoke for about 10 minutes.


Armenian Pontiff Meets With Los Angeles Lawyers, Judges

Metropolitan News-Enterprise
, Feb. 5, 1996

  Karekin I, a man equivalent to the pope for the more than eight million Armenians throughout the world, granted an audience Friday to about 40 Armenian American lawyers and judges at a breakfast reception at the offices of the METNEWS.

The event was attended by former Gov. George Deukmejian, an attorney with Sidley & Austin; California Supreme Court Justice Armand Arabian; and former Los Angeles District Attorney Robert Philibosian, now with Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton.

Among others attending were U.S. District Court Judge Dickran Tevrizian of the Central District of California; former Court of Appeal Justice Richard Amerian, now a sole practitioner; Los Angeles Superior Court Judges Ronald Sohigian, Richard Kolostian and Haig Kehiayan; and Los Angeles Municipal Court Judges Alice Altoon, Jacob Adajian and Soussan Bruguera.

Pasadena Mayor Bill Paparian and dozens of other attorneys from the Armenian community also attended.

The pontiff recounted a recent meeting he had in Armenia with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. He commented that "we need now the judiciary to reform in Armenia" and to look to the example of the court system in the United States.

In a broad-ranging talk comprising about 10 minutes, he recalled that immigrants from Armenia were once stereotyped here as "starving Armenians" and "carpet dealers." The image has changed, he said, observing that Armenians in America are "no longer considered as refugees, no longer newcomers from an old and foreign land."

When Karekin I entered the room in which the judges and lawyers were gathered, he circled it, with each attendee shaking his hand or kissing his ring. Upon spotting Deukmejian, the pontiff boomed out, with delight: "My good friend, George!"

S. John Babigian, general manager of the METNEWS, offered welcoming remarks and introduced the judges in attendance, as well as presenting Philibosian and Michael Hachigian, founding president of the Armenian American Bar Assn. Babigian co-founded the group in the early 1970s.

Greetings were also extended by Vahe K. Masserlian, executive director of that bar association.

The supreme patriarch and catholicos of all Armenians is visiting Los Angeles, home to more Armenians than any other city in the world outside Armenia, for the second time. He was elevated to the pinnacle of the Armenian church hierarchy since his last visit two years ago.

After the breakfast meeting, Karekin I met privately with Mayor Richard Riordan before proceeding down red carpets to the City Council chambers. Riordan presented the pontiff with the official city medallion, and Council President John Ferraro gave him a certificate "representative of our strong bonds of friendship" signed by the mayor and all the council members.

The mayor, citing Armenians' "heroic will to succeed through adversity," noted that Armenia in A.D. 301 became the first officially Christian nation in the world. He also spoke of the holocaust of Armenians in 1915, in which an estimated 1 million died at the hands of the Ottoman army, and how their country was "physically and spiritually destroyed by 70 years of communism."

Riordan asked the patriarch to "remember us every day in your heart and your prayers."

Karekin I gave a short speech to the council, expressing gratitude for "this second opportunity in my life standing before you in this august hall, in this center not of authority only, but of service to the people of Los Angeles."

The pontiff also said:

"I would like you to feel how the people are passing through a period of what I would call transfiguration. Being dominated by foreign powers all along the past centuries....

"Now to recover towards the end of this second millennium the centuriesold dream of freedom makes us grateful to God. Also thankful to all the people who can stand with us at this time of transition, transition from totalitarianism to freedom. And transition from the shadows of death to the new era of resurrection for our nation."

He asked the council to give local Armenians "a boost... to think of their motherland without diminishing in any sense their committedness to this great country of America and to this golden state of California and to this city of angels."

The pontiff is fluent in several languages, including English. He studied at Oxford and has lectured in literature, history and culture at universities throughout the world. Prior to becoming supreme patriarch, he served as catholicos of the Armenian church in Lebanon.

He was accompanied by several other Armenian priests. All were bearded and wore black robes and pointed hoods. 

After his speech, Karekin I presented the city with an engraved stone plaque from Armenia. It portrayed the most holy Armenian shrine with Mt. Ararat, the spot where Noah's Ark is reputed to have come to rest after the biblical flood.

Today, the pontiff is scheduled to visit the state Legislature in Sacramento, then visit an Armenian church in Las Vegas before returning to Los Angeles. He departs tomorrow morning.

Click below to see other pictures in the scrapbook