His Holiness Catholicos Aram I, accompanied by H.E. Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian, Prelate, Clergy and Councils members, arrived in Las Vegas where over the next two days the Pontiff met with community members and blessed the foundation of St. Garabed Church.
Upon their arrival, His Holiness an entourage were welcomed by Parish Pastor Archpriest Fr. Avedis Torossian, Parish Council members, and Las Vegas Pontifical Visit main sponsors Mr. and Mr. Alex and Arda Yemenidjian, who also hosted His Holiness to a dinner that evening. During the dinner, His Holiness spoke with high regards of the Yemenidjian family, and of the dedicated service of Mrs. Yemenidjian's mother Verjine Koujakian who was one of the founders of the Las Vegas Church Sunday School.
On the afternoon of Thursday, October 20, His Holiness was hosted to lunch by the Parish Council, with the participation of representatives from the ARF "Ishkhan" Gomideh and sister organizations.
Late afternoon, His Holiness and entourage arrived at the St. Garabed Church and Community Center complex, where over 300 community members were gathered, enthusiastically awaiting the arrival of the Pontiff for the groundbreaking and blessing of the Church foundation. Church benefactor Mr. Larry Barnes participated in the service, as did Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani. Representatives from the offices of Governor Brian Sandoval, Senator Harry Reid, Senator Dean Heller, Congresswoman Shelley Berkley, and Congressman Dr. Joe Heck were also present.
With the "Hrashapar" hymn, His Holiness entered the complex and conducted the traditional blessing of salt and bread, after which ARS Saturday School students presented a cultural program.
Thus began the blessing of the foundation ceremony.
His Holiness consecrated the Church dome and altar crosses, and the Prelate consecrated the 16 pillars, which represent the 12 apostles, the four Gospel writers, and St. Gregory the Illuminator, the foundations of our Church.
Following the groundbreaking and blessing, His Holiness congratulated the Parish community on their great achievement, conveyed the importance of working together with faith, hope, and love, and expressed his wish that the project reach its successful completion in the near future. Speaking on what it means to build a church, His Holiness stated that our church belongs to our people, the people are our church, and St. Garabed Church of Las Vegas will also be the people's church and will serve all indiscriminately.
The Prelate expressed gratitude to His Holiness for his Pontifical visit to the Las Vegas community and pledged that all will work towards of their mission with unwavering faith, hope, and love.
"Achahampouyr" followed, during which faithful received the blessings of the Pontiff, after which His Holiness toured the complex, expressing his contentment at the project and commending the service of the Parish Priest, Parish Council, Ladies Auxiliary, and all volunteers.
The Parish community set in motion their dream of having their own church nearly two years ago, when by the generosity of benefactor Larry Barnes, the current site was purchased. The benefaction of Mr. Barnes was in memory of his wife Seda Der Garabedian-Barnes, and her ancestors who had perished in the Genocide. The remodeling phase began soon after, with first the completion of the hall, where services are currently held. The second phase is the construction of the Church, which will now proceed with the blessings of His Holiness. Once the project is completed, the complex will serve as the spiritual and cultural hub of the Las Vegas Armenian community.
In the evening, a banquet was held in honor of His Holiness at the Tropicana Hotel, hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Alex and Arda Yemenidjian. Over 350 guests from different states had gathered to honor His Holienss.
Mr. Yemenidjian welcomed His Holiness, expressing his thanks for what he called a historic day.
Parish Council Chair Mr. Adroushan Armenian expressed thanks and gratitude to His Holiness for blessing the Las Vegas community with his Pontifical visit. He then spoke of the history of St. Garabed Church and the stages that have led them to where they are today. Addressing benefactor Mr. Larry Barnes, Mr. Armenian said, "The Las Vegas Armenian community and all Armenians around the world are grateful for your generous donations that motivated us to undertake this important project."
On behalf of the Executive Council, Mr. Vahan Bezdikian welcomed His Holiness and expressed gratitude for the day. He noted how the Las Vegas Armenian community has a decades-long history but it was just in the last few years that they experienced a revival, which is evidenced by the Church project currently underway. He commended the Parish Council and affiliated bodies for their dedication, and thanked the Yemenidjian family for hosting the visit.
The banquet included a cultural program of dances and recitations.
The Prelate expressed his appreciation and commended Mr. and Mr. Yemenidjian for their commitment and service to our Church, and on behalf of His Holiness presented them with a memento. The Prelate also commended the Parish Priest and Council, and presented a hand cross to the Church.
The Prelate joyfully welcomed the presence of faithful from Los Angeles, Arizona, New Jersey, and Chicago. He reminded the guests that the theme of the Pontifical Visit is "With faith we build", and stressed that with faith we will have spiritual renewal, with faith we will serve for the continued progress of our schools, and with faith we will continue to fight for the Armenian Cause. He then invited His Holiness to deliver his message.
His Holiness once again greeted the Parish community and all those who had journeyed to be a part of the historic day. He affirmed that the establishment and livelihood of a community depends on collective efforts, which is what leads to successful realization of endeavors. The Pontiff urged all to serve for the collective good with unwavering faith and strong determination, and concluded by once again commending the hosts, Executive Council, sponsors and supporters.