Vatican City, 9 April 2015 (VIS) – This morning Pope Francis received in audience twenty bishops of the Synod of the Armenian Catholic Church, who will attend next Sunday’s Holy Mass to be celebrated for faithful of Armenian rite in St. Peter’s Basilica, during which St. Gregory of Narek will be proclaimed a Doctor of the Church.
In the discourse he addressed to the bishops, the Holy Father remarked that on Sunday they will “raise a prayer of Christian intercession for the sons and daughters of your beloved people, who were made victims a hundred years ago”, and invoked Divine Mercy “so that it might help all, in the love for truth and justice, to heal every wound and to expedite concrete gestures of reconciliation and peace between the nations that still have not managed to reach a reasonable consensus on the interpretation of these sad events”.
Francis greeted all the clergy and lay faithful of the Armenian Catholic Church, many of whom have accompanied the bishops to Rome in these days, as well as “those who live in the countries of the diaspora, such as the United States, Latin America, Europe, Russia, Ukraine, up to the Motherland”. He added, “I think with particular sadness of those areas, such as that of Aleppo, that a hundred years ago were a safe haven for the few survivors. In such regions the stability of Christians, not only Armenians, has latterly been placed in danger”.
“Your people, whom tradition recognises as the first to convert to Christianity in 301, has a two thousand-year history and preserves an admirable patrimony of spirituality and culture, united with a capacity for recovery amid the many persecutions and trials to which it has been subjected. I invite you always to cultivate a sentiment of acknowledgement of the Lord, for having been capable of maintaining fidelity to Him even during the most difficult periods. It is important, furthermore, to ask of God the gift of wisdom of the heart: the commemoration of the victims of a hundred years ago indeed places us before the darkness of the mysterium iniquitatis”.
“As the Gospel tells us, from the depths of the human heart there may emerge the darkest powers, capable of planning the systematic annihilation of one’s brother, of considering him an enemy, an adversary, or even without the same human dignity”, he observed. “But for believers the issue of the evil committed by man also introduces the mystery of participation in the redemptive Passion: a number of sons and daughters of the Armenian nation were capable of pronouncing Christ’s name to the point of shedding their blood or of death by starvation during the interminable exodus they were forced to undertake”.
“The painful pages in the history of your people continue, in a certain sense, the Passion of Christ, but in each one of these there is also the germ of the Resurrection. There is no lack of commitment among you, Pastors, to the education of the lay faithful to enable them to interpret reality with new eyes, in order to be able to say every day: my people consists not only of those who suffer for Christ, but above all of those who are risen in Him. Therefore it is important to remember the past, in order to draw from it the new lymph needed to nurture the present with the glorious announcement of the Gospel and with the witness of charity. I encourage you to support the path of continuing formation of priests and consecrated persons. They are your first collaborators; the communion between them and you will be strengthened by the exemplary fraternity they may observe in the Synod and with the Patriarch”.
The Pope expressed his gratitude to those who made efforts to alleviate the sufferings of their ancestors, making special reference to Pope Benedict XV “who intervened before the Sultan Mehmet V to bring an end to the massacre of the Armenians”, and who was “a great friend of the Christian Orient: he established the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and the Pontifical Oriental Institute, and in 1920 he inscribed St. Ephrem the Syrian among the Doctors of the Universal Church”. Francis continued, “I am pleased that our meeting takes place on the eve of the same gesture I will have the pleasure of performing on Sunday regarding the great figure of St. Gregory of Narek”.
“To his intercession, I entrust in particular the ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Armenian Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church, aware of the fact that the ‘ecumenism of blood’ has already been achieved through the martyrdom and persecution that took place one hundred years ago”, he concluded. “I now invoke the Lord’s blessing upon you and your faithful, and I ask you not to forget to pray for me”.
COMMENT: Pope Francis will celebrate a Mass in the Armenian Catholic rite on Sunday, to mark the 100th anniversary of the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in what is considered by many the first genocide of the 20th century.Turkey always objects to the use of term “genocide” which may be why The Vatican avoided it.