Pope Francis Reaffirms Genocide Recognition

Pope Francis leads Mass at Vatican with Catholicos Karekin II (foreground) and Catholicos Aram I

VATICAN (RFE/RL)–Pope Francis on Sunday again described the massacres of 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as “the first Genocide of the 20th century” during an unprecedented Vatican Mass dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the tragedy.

Francis remembered the victims of “that immense and senseless slaughter” at the start of the Mass at St. Peter’s basilica, which was attended by President Serzh Sarkisian, the supreme heads of the Armenian Apostolic Churches and hundreds of Armenian Catholics.

“It is necessary, and indeed a duty, to honor their memory, for whenever memory fades, it means that evil allows wounds to fester. Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it,” he declared.

The pontiff spoke of “three massive and unprecedented tragedies” of the past century. “The first, which is widely considered the first genocide of the twentieth century, struck your own Armenian people, the first Christian nation, as well as Catholic and Orthodox Syrians, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Greeks,” he said.

“Bishops and priests, religious, women and men, the elderly and even defenseless children and the infirm were murdered. The remaining two were perpetrated by Nazism and Stalinism.”

Pope is flanked by the two catholicoses and the Vatican bishops

Humanity, he went on, did not learn lessons from those tragedies as evidenced by the mass killings in Cambodia, Rwanda, Burundi and Bosnia later in the 20th century. “Sadly, today too we hear the muffled and forgotten cry of so many of our defenseless brothers and sisters who, on account of their faith in Christ or their ethnic origin, are publicly and ruthlessly put to death … or forced to leave their homeland,” he said in a clear reference to the beleaguered Christian communities in Iraq and Syria.

Francis’s characterization of the 1915 mass killings and deportations of Armenians was in tune with his views on the subject repeatedly voiced in the past. He publicly called them “the first genocide of the 20th century” in 2013 just a few months after becoming supreme head of the Roman Catholic Church. The Turkish government condemned that statement.

Official Ankara, which strongly denies a deliberate government effort to exterminate the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire, did not immediately react to the pope’s latest statement. It had reportedly pressured him in recent weeks to avoid uttering the word “genocide.”

According to the Associated Press news agency, Turkey’s embassy to the Vatican canceled a planned news conference for Sunday, presumably after learning that the pope will after all use the politically sensitive term.

The two-hour Mass was concelebrated by Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX and featured medieval Armenian religious hymns performed by two choirs from Gyumri. Underlining its ecumenical spirit, Catholicos Karekin II, Catholicos Aram I and over a dozen bishops of the Armenian Apostolic Church sat in a place of honor in the basilica along with President Sarkisian.

In another unprecedented development, Karekin II and Aram I embraced Francis at the altar and delivered sermons at the end of the ceremony broadcast live to Armenia.

“Our ancient people were uprooted from their cradle and historic homeland and scattered around the world,” Garegin said in reference to the Armenian genocide. “Our centuries-old Christian heritage was torn down, destroyed and seized.”

“However, nothing — neither suffering, nor persecution or even death — forced our people to renounce their sacred faith,” he added.

Both Karekin II and Aram I expressed their “deep gratitude” to the Roman Catholic Church for its attempts to stop the genocide and support its survivors. They specifically paid tribute to Pope Benedict XV who protested to Ottoman Sultan Mehmed V against the massacres.

“We will never forget the continuous concern, assistance and solidarity of the Church of Rome towards Armenians — that is to say towards justice,” said Aram.

Francis also honored Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora by bestowing the title of “Doctor of the Universal Church” on St. Gregory of Narek, a 10-11th century Armenian cleric renowned for his religious writings. Only 35 Christian figures have received the Catholic title to date. A large picture of Gregory was put on display during Sunday’s Mass.


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  1. petrov said:

    This is remarkable , such enlightenement should serve for inspiration in the further pursuit of justice and our spiritual values.

  2. State-Of-Emergency said:

    Good but not excellent. Instead of using his own words to describe the events as genocide, Pope Francis actually quoted a statement signed by Pope John Paul II and the Armenian patriarch in 2001. The only added feature was that it was the first time the term was spoken aloud in connection with Armenia by a head of the Roman Catholic Church in Saint Peter’s Basilica.

    The 2001 statement, which the Pope read aloud was…..”The first, which is widely considered ‘the first genocide of the 20th century’, struck your own Armenian people,”

  3. Hagop Varoujian said:

    Do not let us underestimate the significant role the Armenian Catholic church has played in this matter over a number of years.We often tend to overlook the facts and fail to give credit where it is due. We have even gone as far as shamelessly labeling Armenian Catholics as not being “True Armenians”- whatever that means. The Armenian Catholic church alongside the Mekhitarist monks have made a priceless contribution in the preservation and enhancement of our national heritage, culture and identity in the diaspora. So, let us give credit where it’s due and let us embrace them once and for all as our true brothers and sisters.

    • State-Of-Emergency said:

      Using this event to advance your ulterior agenda is uncalled for. The defensive nature of most Catholic Armenians in disturbing to say the least. Even the Pope recognized the Armenian national church from the pulpit of the Catholic Church’s Holy Center, something our Catholics try to avoid in vain.

      My question to you is what would be of our national church if every Armenian were to adopt the “One, True Church”. Would we have to convert the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin and the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia into museums and force the Catholicos’ into retirement? What is your position on the disposition of our national church if we all suddenly decided to follow your path?

  4. Sylva-MD-Poetry said:

    On Sunday April 12, 2015…after one hundred year…

    No one said it before…!
    You, Armenian Saint Pope Francis… Said it clearly,
    Standing fearless under your godly arch.

    Everyone escaped… fearing Turkish Scimitars
    That will reach them and trim their necks
    Even god left us to suffer alone…!

    If Jesus gave his life to save mankind
    We gave 1.5 million lives
    Not to betray his heart.
    Can we give more …and race alone?

    Pope, you are the savior of this century
    Your sacred phrases started healing some of our scars
    In so many ways…difficult to explain …

    We are happy you have arrived
    Someone sent you to us to tell the word
    How much we suffered to hear that painful word genocide
    To de-flame our smoking hearts…

    After the First Genocide…
    Many Genocides followed of many types
    Genocide of Language, Identity, Culture, Faith, Ethnicity…
    Not reported yet in any history…
    Committed by well-known inhumane, savage minded-hands.

    Dr. Sylva Portoian
    Written instantly

  5. Alex Postallian said:

    VIVA PAPPA—–Truly a peoples POPE,not a political.. reminds me of Pope John XX111, simply a peoples Pope.

  6. Shavarsh Chrissian, MD said:

    Was a most moving and truely historical event. Besides recognizing the fact of the genocide, Pope Francis also recognized the Armenian Church as the first Christian Church. This from the very pulpit of the Catholic Church’s Holy Center, the St. Peter’s Cathedral where the Armenian Mass also resonated!

  7. Ani said:

    Thank you, thank you, Pope Francis from the bottom of my heart.
    May God bless you a thousand times.

  8. Vindicated Man said:

    As someone who’s been hopelessly agnostic for decades, I now feel I’m ready to rethink this aspect of my life, but that’s a different story. What His Holiness did is a prime example of honesty, integrity, and superior principles. He’s an amazing man, and I will envy every Catholic for having such a wonderful leader, who is just simply brave, unlike many others. He is a man who can speak the truth.

  9. Mabuballah said:

    Bravo! Great news here. Finally we have a western leader who calls out evil for what it is — and his analogy to an open and festering wound is spot on. Goodness is irrefutable reproach to evil at all times and places.
    Anyone who complains about stirring up the pot should remember that Christ never failed to call out evil. He came to shine a light in the darkness with which such monstrous evil surrounds itself, and any Christian worthy of the name should do the same. The rest of western leadership could benefit by Pope Francis’ example.

  10. Sokimag said:

    God bless Pope Francis. A great man! We, Armenians, should try to get closer with Vatican, because Vatican is our true friend and ally. Armenian apostolic church should get closer to Roman Catholic Church and have better relations.

    • State-Of-Emergency said:

      The great chasm between east and west will never allow for such closeness, If nothing else, Russia will not allow it. Russia in general and Putin in particular are still upset over the Catholic Church’s role in the toppling of the USSR.

  11. Berj Kalamkarian M.D. said:

    Never in my life imagined this moment from the mouth of holy pope the head of the Catholic Church and Vatican without fear calling the atrocities of 1915 from the culprit of St Peter Cathedral to repeat the so much FEARED word by many mighty nations THE FIRST GENOCIDE OF THE 20th CENTURY. And the Armenian Badarak and HOUZICH DERVOGHORMYAN. This was historic and great thanks to the Armenian Catholic Badriark for helping facilitate this event with our two Holy Cathilicoses Karekin the Second and Aram the First. May this event help keep the bilateral communications and understanding and mutual respect for ever.

    • State-Of-Emergency said:

      It was already done back in 2001. In fact, Pope Francis merely read the declaration aloud. It did not have much effect back then, I doubt it’ll have much effect now. Political heavy weights such as the US, EU, UN and NATO are the real catalysts for effective change. Without their weight, business will go on as usual.

      • John Keusseyan said:

        Dear SOE why are you trying to belittle this man’s great accomplishment? What is your problem? Is it too hard for you to say thank you? We all know what he said and how he said it. Just appreciate the fact that he said it. Instead of “havgitin mechen maz me pnderer”. Get a life and be happy instead of making stupid comments.

        • State-Of-Emergency said:

          Don’t be so desperate. Yes, we appreciate it, but the fact remains that we are searching externally for something that should be resolved internally. The lessons of the past don’t seem to faze us. Our exuberant reaction merely demonstrates to the world how weak and desperate we have become. Instead of euphoria, we should be asking these same people why it took so long for them to recognize the obvious? From your comment, it’s clear that you’re ready to accept anything out of sheer desperation.

        • State-Of-Emergency said:

          Besides, instead of slinging crass comments, why don’t you reread my post. I merely tried to stress the fact that this was not the first time something like came out of the Vatican. The original writer may not have been aware that Pope John Paul II had declared it as genocide back in 2001. Unbearable!!

          • John Keusseyan said:

            Why don’t you reread my post? Obviously you have problem reading. If you are so proud of your comments, why hide behind an assumed name SOE?

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  16. Nick Papadopoulos said:

    Thank you Pope Francis for your courageous stand . I have both Greek and Armenian Blood .
    God bless you richly.