The year 2020 was ‘special’ – in many ways. Unfortunately, the pandemic and its devastating impact was top of mind for most of the year hoped and prayed that the path to recovery would not be steep.
For AAOP, the year 2020 will be remembered as a ‘special year’ in yet another way – as the year of the landmark declaration by Catholicos Aram I as The Year of Armenians with Special Needs. In his Epistle, which was read across Prelacy churches on January 12th, the Pontiff made frequent reference to the concepts of equality regarding individuals with disabilities, protection of their rights, and the importance of serving and addressing their needs across our community, organizations, cultural institutions, and of course the Church. You can find the full Pontiff’s message here.
Since 2006, AAOP’s mission has been to support families who have children with ASD. We have done so through informational resources, opportunities for social engagement, and community education to promote understanding and inclusion.
On January 12, 2020, families with children with autism attended a memorable service at the Armenian Apostolic Church of Crescenta Valley (CV Church), and heard his Eminence, then Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian, read the Pontiff’s Epistle to a full house of worshipers. However, this was not the first time families had attended CV church with their children. In June of 2019, the CV church, with the blessing of then Archbishop Mardirossian, and in partnership with AAOP, launched its program of ministry to families with children with special needs, through services that would provide accommodations for the children to attend with their families. It was understood and accepted that the children may feel the need to explore the environment, interact with choir members, or be differently engaged, during the service. AAOP became the conduit to families, and provided behavioral support to the children during the services, and post-service special activities.
Under the leadership of Rev. Fr. Ghevont Karazian, Pastor of CV church, the program started with the services celebrating the five major feasts in the Church calendar – in summer 2019: first, Vartavar in July, followed by the feasts of Asdvadzadzin, and Khachverats, in August and September. After each service, the children engaged in games and arts and crafts activities, prepared by AAOP, appropriate to the message of the feast celebrated. The last special service that was celebrated in person was on Christmas Day, January 6th, 2020. As the pandemic ‘stay home’ regulations and prohibition against public gatherings were instituted early spring, the services switched to the church’s FB platform. AAOP continues to design and lead fun activities, now virtually, for the kids and parents to participate in.
With the traditionally positive hopes we associate with the coming of every New Year, this year too, we look forward to returning to the more natural ways of life we knew prior to the pandemic, including church. We appreciate very much the spirit of outreach the CV church leadership has exemplified, and it is our hope that the same will be spread across all of our community institutions and members at large.
In his January 2021 Epistle, Catholicos Aram I started out by reminding us of his declaration of 2020 as the The Year of Armenians with Special Needs. He also noted that due to the pandemic, as well as the events in Lebanon and Armenia, outreach activities had been hampered. It is our hope that the Pontiff’s message will endure and all of our efforts in this regard will be successful in 2021 and beyond.