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Visit was a blessing for our community

I received an email Wednesday morning, notifying me that His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, would be visiting Weirton.

How big of a deal was this?

The Ecumenical Patriarch, also known as Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome, is the spiritual leader of a few hundred million Eastern Orthodox Christians around the world. As it was explained to me by several individuals that day, he is, in essence, the Pope of the Orthodox Christian faith.

And he was coming to little old Weirton, West Virginia, as part of his official Apostolic Visit to the United States. Two days prior, he was in the White House for an in-person meeting with the President of the United States, and then he was making his way to our community.

Also part of the entourage was the Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, the head of the church here in the U.S.

The visit, I was told, had been in the works for some time, through the efforts of Weirton native Michael Psaros who is an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarch, Order of St. Andrew, serving on its national council and living in New York. Part of the visit included a stop at what had been the house of Psaros’ grandparents, Harilaos and Evyenia Loufaki, which now is known as Evyenia’s House of Hope.

For those who don’t know, Evyenia’s House of Hope is operated by the Weirton Christian Center. Among its programs, it offers space for counseling services and life skills classes, as well as a supervised visitation site between children and their parents or guardians, in particular when children as in the foster care system. It also has offices for Cathlic Charities of West Virginia and the Upper Ohio Valley Sexual Assault Help Center. There also is a “clothes closet” of sorts, with formal gowns available for those who are unable to purchase new ones for school dances or other events.

Evyenia’s House of Hope is an important part of our community.

The visit then moved to All Saints Greek Orthodox Church for a service and luncheon.

Weirton is no stranger to visits from high-profile individuals. Sitting presidents, as well as presidential candidates, have made their way through the streets of our community during campaign stops. U.S. senators and governors have been a part of important events and announcements.

I’ve even had the opportunity to provide news coverage for some of them. As I sat in the fellowship hall of All Saints Wednesday afternoon, surrounded by friends and strangers alike, experiencing their hospitality and trying my best to show some of my own, I knew this was different. A short distance away was a man responsible for guiding the faith of millions of people. Even for someone like myself, who has never been especially religious, I understand what a true privelege it was.

I don’t presume to speak for the entirety of Weirton, but I hope our community understands the significance of this visit and appreciates the efforts of Michael Psaros and his family, as well as the hospitality of everyone at All Saints Greek Orthodox Church.

I also offer my personal thanks to Stratos Safioleas and Amelia Antzoulatos from the communications team with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and Timothy Costa from the Parkside Group for their assistance before, during and after the visit. They made our newspaper’s coverage possible.

This truly was an important historical event for the Weirton community, and one that should always be remembered. I know it’s not one I will forget.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)

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