Keeping the Armenian Traditions
During the Armenians’ formation period, Don Orione always showed his affection to them, constantly concerned that they should maintain their traditions, language and roots, and he arranged that they should always be in touch with other Armenian religious.
Accordingly, the Founder wanted to give them Armenian-style religious habits, like those of the Armenian seminarians of Propaganda Fide.
Don Orione explained this to the Armenians: “I want to give you proper Armenian habits, so that you will indeed be true Armenians in our Congregation”.
Regarding this, Fr. Chamlian said:
“It was on 29th February that Don Orione came to meet us in the “Colonia” and invited us all to go to meet the Director of the Catholic Armenian Seminary in San Nicolò da Tolentino Street, near Barberini Square. The aim of the visit was to see if he could give his Armenian seminarians the same style of habit as those the Armenian seminarians wore, with a red sash. At that time, the Director of the seminary was a young priest called Fr. Garabed Agagianian, who was appointed bishop a few years later, and was made a Cardinal by Pius XII in the 40s. Accordingly, Don Orione obtained the authorization to clothe us with the same habit as the Armenian seminarians. The sisters of the “Colonia” immediately got to work to make 7 made-to-measure habits and seven cottas, complete with a great mantle.”
On 4th April 1929, the Founder vested the seven with these habits, according to the Armenian custom, each with a red sash.
In his joyful homily during the ceremony, he said:
“… Praise be to Jesus Christ! This is not just a cordial greeting, it is in gratitude for the simple fact of vesting an Armenian, because it is Divine Providence which has brought these young people all the way here from Armenia, through Turkey, then Rhodes and finally to Rome. This alone gives us to think and moves us, but what delights us even more is that here, before the Blessed Sacrament, this little congregation of ours now unites members from both the Eastern and Roman rites. Our Congregation’s first decree of approval mentions this. (…)And these young people you see here are mostly sons of martyrs… (…) The only Christian nation in the centre of the Muslim world, Armenia has frequently witnessed the blood of its children shed to seal its faith in Jesus Christ. And that is why, my dear sons, I, too, encircle you with a red sash, to remind you when you wear it of your martyred country, and of your ancestors who shed their blood in defense of the Roman faith. You also must be ready to shed yours, showing yourselves to be worthy sons of your forefathers (…). This evening, we can perceive the radiant dawn of what is to come in our little Congregation, when every language will be spoken, and the Mass will be celebrated in every rite approved by the Church. This evening, we have heard the Lord’s Prayer sung in the Armenian language, but what will it be like when the Lord’s Prayer is sung in every language in our Congregation!”
After his homily, he looked at the Armenian seminarians and told them: “Sing the litanies in Armenian”.
Many confreres who were present that day remembered that Don Orione spoke very enthusiastically about the Eastern Churches and ecumenism.
This ceremony would remain forever in the hearts of the Armenian seminarians. Fr. Chamlian recounted: “We were so very happy, even though our habits hampered our movements at work and when running as we played at cops and robbers.”
“Holy Father, I too am Armenian right now”
On 23rd June 1929, for the Beatification of an Armenian martyr, Der Gomidas Keumurdjian, Pope Pius XI gave a special audience just for the Armenians who were in Rome. That day, Don Orione happened to be in Rome to attend the beatification of Don Bosco, and he went to Monte Mario to visit the Armenian seminarians who were about to go to the audience, so Don Orione decided to go with them.
Fr. Chamlian related this episode, which shows us Don Orione’s paternal love for his Armenian seminarians:
“In May 1929, the Beatification of an Armenian martyr, Der Gomidas Komurgian took place, and accordingly, Pope Pius XII gave a special audience only for the Armenians who were in Rome. On that day Don Orione was in Rome to attend the Beatification of Don Bosco, and he came to the Monte Mario “Colonia” to visit us. We told him that we were going to the audience the Pope was giving especially for Armenians in Rome, and he answered: “Well, I will come too, and if the Pope says anything, I will tell him that I, too, am Armenian”. In fact, he came along with us, and together we went into one of the great apartments, and he sat beside us. When the Pope came in, he gave his hand to each of the Armenians standing round the room to be kissed. When he came to Don Orione he said: “Oh, Don Orione is here, too!” Introducing us to the Holy Father as his seminarians, Don Orione said: “Holy Father, I too am Armenian right now,” and the Pope replied: “Oh, I see: Don Orione omnibus omnia factus, and now he has also become an Armenian”.
|Fr. Dellalian, missionary in Chile|
The Armenian Community in Rome
The students of the Armenian College in Rome were surprised when they heard that Don Orione, a priest of the Roman rite, was interested in their rite, and had a group of Armenian seminarians in his Congregation. Indeed, he was esteemed and venerated by the entire community of Armenian religious in Rome.
The emeritus Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians, His Beatitude Hermaiagh Ghedighian, showed how true this was. He met the Founder when he was studying at the Gregorian University at the beginning of the 1930s, and he frequently attended Masses celebrated by Don Orione in the house in Sette Sale Street.
Don Orione’s Dream
The Founder also wanted his Armenian seminarians to be ordained in the Armenian Rite, so he asked Fr. Sterpi to take up the matter and bring up the case of his seminarians before the Congregation for the Eastern Churches. He thought that they could work with the Armenian community and so become a bridge which might bring about a union between the Roman Church and the Eastern Churches.
But his desire was not to be fulfilled. The Armenian seminarians, Dellalian and Chamlian, were in fact ordained according to the Roman rite, not their own Armenian rite. This choice seems to have been made at the request of the Apostolic Visitor, Abbot Emanuele Caronti, due to the intervention of the congregation and the uncertainties of the wartime and the conclusion of the First General Chapter (August 1940).
Some years later, the Congregation obtained permission for Fr. Dellalian and Fr. Chamlian to keep the Armenian rite.
The story of the Armenian seminarians shows us the fatherly heart of St. Luigi Orione, who had a special love for his Armenian sons, and became a father to these orphans.
He had some knowledge of Armenian history, Church and Martyrs, whom he admired. His love and admiration for Armenia led him to request his Armenian seminarians to maintain links to their people, culture, language, rite, customs and traditions, giving a great example of respect for cultures.
In his Armenian seminarians, he saw a bridge between the Catholic Church and the Eastern rite, but sadly his dream was never fulfilled, because his Armenian religious were not ordained in their own rite and were not in fact given the opportunity to engage in work for the promotion of their own people.
But we do not know if Providence may yet perhaps make it possible for his dream to come true at some time in the future.