To the Prelates,
The Community Leaders
of the Great House of Cilicia,
and to the daughters and sons
of our people,
On the eve of 2023, from the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia in Antelias, Lebanon, we greet and bless with Christian love and patriarchal blessings the National General Assembly, the Religious and Executive Councils of the National Central Committee, the Brotherhood, the Prelates and the Community Leaders, and every union, organization and educational, cultural, and charitable structure that operates in our national life, as well as the beloved daughters and sons of our people. We pray to God Most High that the New Year that begins may be filled with health, success and joy in our individual, family, and national life.
As the daughters and sons of our people know, with our Catholicosal Proclamation we declared 2022 “Year of the Diaspora.” We referred to the current state of the Diaspora and its fundamental causes, which moved us to declare 2022 the Year of the Diaspora, with the following assertion in our Proclamation:
“ The Armenian identity is exposed to attrition… In some places, it is rocking amid waves of uncertainty; in other places, it is fighting against storms; somewhere else, it is in search of a new identity; and yet in a different place it finds itself rapidly assimilating. Hence, the reorganization and revitalization of the Diaspora is a mandatory task. This ample and multifaceted plan may have a practical application with the introspection and revaluation of the Diaspora, and the clarification of its particular place and role in our national life. Work towards this huge undertaking must begin today; tomorrow may be too late for a Diaspora that lives in the whirlpool of fundamental, fast-paced changes.” In view of the uncertain and worrying situation of the Diaspora, we then stressed: “The current situation of the Diaspora, full of uncertainties and crises, must prompt our leading bodies and intellectuals to think out, examine, and discuss, with realistic spirit and in a responsible manner, how to reorganize the present of the Diaspora and to explore new ways and means for the Diaspora.”
Indeed, the concerns, indications and conclusions expressed in articles, studies, conferences, and seminars in the last year stressed the points we made in our Catholicosal Proclamation. In particular, they reaffirmed the urgent imperative of taking the Diaspora out of its current situation and leading it towards reorganization.
Therefore, considering the continuous importance of the inquiries that are underway and, beyond the work of examination, the indispensability of the implementation of visions and clarification of the means to achieve them, with the present Catholicosal Letter we again proclaim 2023
YEAR OF THE DIASPORA (II)
(From self-examination to reorganization)
The emphasis will be on reorganization. Without ignoring the high importance of self-examination, we expect that practical steps will be taken, and plans will be developed, especially within the sphere of the prelacies.
WHAT WAS DONE DURING THE YEAR OF THE DIASPORA?
We want to say, with great satisfaction, that the proclamation of the Year of the Diaspora had a wide echo in academic, intellectual, press, and youth circles. Over the past year, there were five online meetings with experts, intellectuals, media specialists, and young people knowledgeable of Diaspora issues. A series of current issues were discussed during these meetings and suggestions were made. Taking into account the importance of the discussions held during those meetings gathered by the Catholicosate’s initiative, we consider important to outline each of them:
- a) In Our opening remarks during the first meeting, after explaining the motives to proclaim the Year of the Diaspora, we referred to the characteristics of the newly formed and ever-changing diaspora environments and the difficulties confronted by the traditional structures functioning in different fields. We highlighted the basic questions related to identity. Then the participants introduced the following issues:
— Use of comparative Diaspora studies.
— Adoption of various ways to discuss identity issues.
— Search for means to access diasporan situations outside our institutions.
— Definition of formats for specialized area discussions of diasporan questions.
— Formulation of various strategies of inclusion according to environment and particularities.
— Study of possibilities for full utilization of networking.
— Promotion of groups on the Internet.
— Importance of working to catalog and gather the human force and potential of the Diaspora.
— Need for target planning for the youth.
— New conceptualization of the relations between Armenia, Artsakh, and the Diaspora.
A realistic, comprehensive, and in-depth discussion of the aforementioned issues was considered a necessary point of departure for the process of reorganizing the Diaspora.
- b) Our opening remarks in the second round of consultations highlighted the following points:
— Is the Diaspora ready to be reorganized?
— Need for realistic evaluation as a departing point to confront questions and propose solutions.
— Planning process for the reorganizing work of the Diaspora. The role of the Church and its surrounding bodies, institutions, and traditional structures was considered very important in this regard.
— The urgency of establishing new agendas, with the principle of improving structures, systems, methodology, and bylaws.
The discussion was focused on three basic questions, which were the guideline for further work: collective values, identity, and participation.
- c) A group of young people, who have active roles in the life of the communities, participated in the third consulting session.
We initially praised the positive involvement of the youth in the life of their communities and their zeal for renewal, underscoring that a society cannot advance without the youth, because the youth is the blood and the present of the society, and not just the future. We explained the challenges that the Diaspora confronted and highlighted the need for the work of reevaluation and renewal with active participation of the youth. Taking into account that the Diaspora was created as a consequence of the Armenian genocide and that it is composed by Armenians emigrated due to the economic crisis of Armenia, we recalled that the Diaspora is in continuous movement. Therefore, it is not accurate to examine and evaluate the Diaspora with generalist approaches, while at the same time it must be highlighted that Armenian identity and belonging constitutes the common thread between the communities. We fostered the youth to come out from the passive role of follower and to see themselves in the active role of participant. Finally, we reminded that the goal of this online consultation is to listen to the youth, to learn about their difficulties, expectations, and especially their viewpoints about the ways to maintain our identity healthy in a globalized world and a society without walls.
Then, the youth referred to the questions relevant to them. They brought the question of the diminishing use of the mother language and foreign linguistic thinking; the tendency to write online communications in Latin script due to the insufficient knowledge of spelling; the phenomenon of Armenia and Diaspora contradicting each other on the social networks often due to lack of mutual understanding; the inconveniencies of going to foreign schools; the insufficient utilization of technology; reemphasize self-awareness among young people; the situation of despair among the youth due to the last Artsakh war; issues about the relation of the leadership and the youth, and the abandonment of the community due to the economic situation. Within the discussion of those subjects, the young people also brought their suggestions in the educational, organizational, technological, and ecclesiastical fields. After listening to them, we highly appreciated their constructive contribution and underscored that we cannot avoid the culture of globalization today. However, in front of this fact, we have to cling to our identity, which must be founded on values and anchored on ideals. It is necessary to think about generating a system of collective values that can neither take us far from our current society nor isolate us but create an internal connection between both that becomes enriching for them.
- d) The fourth meeting was devoted to the field of information. After showing the importance of the information field in the reorganization of the Diaspora, each of the participants presented an expert report, and then there was a widely open discussion. The following points were particularly under the spotlight:
–The collection of data is vital for the work of inventory and cataloging of specialized workforce in the Diaspora.
–The chip-production industry today is based on the principles of size reduction, incorporation of multiplied data, and speed multiplication. The Armenian information factor must take this new direction into account while organizing its networking.
–The global order today works with decentralized, integrating and continuously innovating systems. We need to take into consideration this order and method, especially to get in touch with people outside of our classic structures.
- e) The goal of the fifth meeting was to summarize the basic ideas of the previous discussions and determine the next steps with a practical approach. Upon our suggestions, three central directions were under consideration: diagnosis, reaction, and process. Then we explained the characteristic phenomena and the suggestions taken from the online meetings and the articles written on the Year of the Diaspora in general. We recalled that the imperative of bringing the Diaspora out of the current predicament has become a collective preoccupation and existential issue. It is clearly noticeable the approach of the youth, which considers urgent the reorganization of the Diaspora; otherwise, the gap between the youth and diasporan life may deepen more. We also underscored that the goal of the Year of the Diaspora is not to prepare an academic study, but to prepare a plan and determine a process based on concrete data for the work of reevaluating and renewing various fields.
- f) In our message to the World General Assembly, as well as in the reports of the Religious and Lay Councils of the Central Executive Council the reorganization of the Diaspora has occupied ample space. The assembly widely discussed and highlighted the utter importance of the reorganization of the Diaspora in a special session, as well as the need, especially by the prelacies, to start that process.
In fact, the discussion on the Year of the Diaspora, written or online, disclosed the same common preoccupations: the Diaspora is in a process of rapid wearing, our structures have become to lose their currency, and, therefore, it is necessary to revitalize the Diaspora under the light of the current conditions and realities surrounding our life. After being witness and listeners to all these, especially during the past year, we concluded that the collective worry expressed about the Diaspora is so deep, and the work to be done is so extensive and its clarification so essential, that all this cannot be condensed in a one-year period. Thus, it is necessary to continue the discussions in this sense, with the participation of prelacy and community representatives, intellectuals, institutional leaders, and experts of different fields with the perspective of going from discussions to reorganization.
HOW CAN WE MOVE FROM SELF-EXAMINATION
The demand for reorganization has become an urgent concern. Prolonging the current state means the fading, disintegration, and attrition of the Diaspora. It is necessary to inject new vitality into the Diaspora with a collective effort, making it consistent with the realities and challenges of the present world. Naturally, this is not easy and gentle work. Today, the Diaspora presents a bleak picture of differences, contradictions, and uncertainties. Therefore, it is not possible to adopt one-size-fits-all approaches. The communities live in different environments. Their internal provisions are different; they are governed through different organizational structures and are subject to different influences. In other words, our collective concern, enthusiasm, and commitment do not necessarily entail defining our collective work and a common agenda. It is necessary to take into account each community or parish with its characteristics, needs, and priorities, naturally, starting from collective principles and goals. From our point of view, the following principles and goals should especially become the guiding beacon and driving force for the reorganization of the Diaspora:
–To reevaluate the self-identity of Armenians living in the Diaspora in the light of globalized culture.
–To consider a priority the reform of the church, which plays a key role in Armenian life, adapting it to the characteristics and conditions of the present times and to some extent the environment.
–To carry out the self-examination and reevaluation of the activities of the organizations operating within our communities in the light of new imperatives.
–To get involved the youth, who are gradually moving away from our structures and from our life in general, in Armenian life through dialogue.
–To ensure a wider and effective role of women in all areas of Armenian life and on all levels.
–To make specialists in various spheres of community life contribute more actively and consistently.
REORGANIZATION OF THE PRELACIES
The prelacies have a central role in the reorganization of the Diaspora. In reference to the reorganization of the prelacies, we said in our proclamation of 2022 as Year of the Diaspora: “The life of the traditional diaspora is organized around the church. Each community has considered the church the center of its collective life and has built its establishments with different missions around it. The church, in turn, has not been able to keep pace with the changing conditions of life. The reformation of the church is also urgent. The church-people relationship must acquire a new quality and style and the church must become a presence of service in the life of the people. There, taking into consideration the central role of the church in the life of a community, the reorganization of a community must begin with parish life”.
With this conviction, we suggest adopting the following approach and process:
1) Goal: The work to be done must be understood, beyond administrative reorganization, as renewal and reactivation of church life and witness, under the light of new imperatives of service and mission.
2) Approach: It is necessary, on one side, to consider the traditions and teachings of our Church, and on the other, local conditions. The work should not be executed within the narrow boundaries of the prelacies, but with community outreach, taking into account the viewpoints and expectations of sister organizations. The planning must be realistic, far from theoretical, random, and anachronistic approaches.
3) Participants: Under the presidency of the Prelate, it is expected that the Executive Council, adjunct bodies, clergy, experts, youth, and heads of various institutions have an input in the current work. Naturally, each prelacy determines the course and method of work at its own discretion.
4) Execution: Each prelacy plan must be prepared as an executable guideline and not just as a study. The execution of the plan must be gradually done.
5) Structures and units to be reorganized:
- a) Parish։ The parish forms the basis of the life and mission of the church and, in this case, the prelacy. To organize the prelacy means to organize the parish first. The parish should become the focal point of the work. To achieve this goal:
First, special importance should be given to the spiritual pastor. Indeed, a spiritual pastor who is spiritually developed, is aware of his calling, and keeps in constant contact with his flock, can play a key role in the reorganization, expansion, and revitalization of the parish. The spiritual pastor’s sermons should be concise and current. The spiritual pastor is called to use the network of friends in the right way and to the maximum extent, to keep in touch with the people. In this sense, we consider necessary to offer Bible studies, brief references about saints and holidays, as well as to transmit news that pertain the national Prelacy as well as the Holy See to the people of the parish. The blessing of the home, visits to families on various occasions, gatherings organized in the parish hall also greatly contribute to a closer relationship between the church and the people. The spiritual pastor should pay special attention to the organization of the choir and the celebration of the rites. The Prelate must be well informed about the activities of the spiritual pastor. The organization of special gatherings of the clergy, the determination of the special direction of the work of spiritual pastors, the regular transfer of pastors to other parishes can have a positive role in the revitalization of the life and mission of the parishes and the prelacy in general.
Second, next to the spiritual pastor, the board of trustees also has an important role in the strengthening of the parish. Continuous efforts should be made to rejuvenate the boards of trustees, appointing dedicated and capable people to the position. The presence of women among the trustees is vital. The boards, in consultation with the Prelate, should closely follow the work of the spiritual pastor. The spiritual pastor should preside over the trustee meetings and participate in the implementation of the plans.
Third, harmonious and close cooperation between the parish and the Prelacy is imperative. The Prelacy is the totality of the parishes. The parish reports to the Prelate and the Executive Council. In this sense, it is necessary, on the one hand, to enforce observance of accountability to the Prelacy and, on the other hand, to respect the internal freedom of the parish within certain limits, keeping in mind the geographic distance and different conditions of some parishes.
- Christian upbringing. Special importance should be given to Christian education at the prelacy and parish levels. Naturally, the Prelacy should be the center of the program and the work. However, the Prelacy and the parish must forge a harmony, always keeping in mind the local conditions. We consider popular publications—prayer, saints’ life, spiritual counseling, etc.—important. Bible study must be conducted with new methods, also assigning a special place to the saints, traditions, religious and moral teachings of our church and to social and moral issues that pertain modern society. We consider of paramount importance the restructuring of Sunday schools and the expansion of their activities, the teaching of religious subjects and the establishment of moral development classes in our schools, for the Christian and Armenian formation of our new generations.
- Social service. Social service is one of the important spheres of the mission of our church. This work can be mainly oriented to humanitarian cases, patients, inmates, or new families in the parish. The church should always be ready to attend to the social needs of the flock to the maximum extent. In this regard, regular visits by the priests to hospitals and nursing homes are vital.
- Youth. It is a priority to gather the youth around our church. In this respect, special programs are needed that the Prelacy and the parishes should carry out in a coordinated manner, with the participation of the youth. Young people should be appointed in all prelacy bodies. We must engage in a dialogue with young women and men instead of keeping them away from our community structures and from life in general.
- Inter-church and inter-religious relations. Inter-church and inter-religious relations have become a necessity in today’s world. Communities and organizations both Christian and affiliated to other religions can be found in almost all prelacies. Therefore, we consider the relations of the prelacy with them important. Exchange of visits and participation in important events greatly contribute to the strengthening of relations.
7) Cooperation with the Armenian Catholic and Armenian Evangelical churches. Our Holy See has always had a positive cooperation with the Armenian Catholic and Armenian Evangelical Churches, which are considered an integral part of our nation and serve in our communal life. In the same spirit, we must continue the cooperation within the parish or prelacy in a harmonious and coordinated manner, especially around general problems that pertain the Armenian nation and community life.
8) Cooperation with sister organizations. Cooperation with the organizations operating within the prelacies is imperative. The prelacy is not a separate unit from the community. The prelacy are the people. Therefore, close cooperation with the organizations that serve at the prelacy and parish levels may greatly contribute to the reorganization of the community. With this perspective, it is advisable that the sister organizations also become participants in the reorganization work of the prelacy.
9) Administrative. According to the conditions of the districts, establish new parishes and, if necessary, divide large parishes into internal divisions. If needed, create Prelacy Delegations both for distant districts and within the Prelacy, assigning a special mission to the Delegate. The Executive Council should have educational, financial, and real estate committees on its site, as well as other specialized ones as required, to make its work more organized and comprehensive.
10) Statutory. Even though the bylaws of the prelacies are subject to continuous reform, they still need to be revised with a realistic approach, considering both the rapid changes happening both within the prelacy and the area.
These are the general lines of our understanding of the reorganization to be carried out within the prelacies. During the current year, we will successively visit our prelacies, and according to a predetermined agenda, we will have working meetings with the Prelates, the clergy, and the community leadership. Next year, the leading bodies of the prelacies will visit the Antelias Monastery and will present their reports to the joint meeting of Us with the Central Executive Council. The implementation process will follow discussion, consultation, and planning. This implementation will be a remarkable event in the modern history of our Holy See, also becoming a signal and a milestone for the reorganization of the entire Diaspora. We are faced with a huge and urgent task, which, with God’s blessing, our prelacies are called to undertake with a collective effort and a spirit of responsibility and utmost dedication, with the full support of the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia.
We wish you success.
With warm fatherly love,
CATHOLICOS ARAM I
GREAT HOUSE OF CILICIA