Catholicos Recovery Uncertain

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The seriously ill Catholicos Karekin I is living the last days of his life and has already bidden farewell to the clergy at the headquarters of the Armenian Apostolic Church in the city of Etchmiadzin–church sources said on Wednesday.

"I was told that there is no hope left [for Karekin I’s recovery]–His Holiness is in a very bad state," a well-informed source told RFE/RL.

Karekin I–who reportedly has a tumor in his larynx–has underwent a surgery and lengthy treatment in the United States and returned to Armenia earlier this year unable to speak. His illness has resulted in the postponement of a planned visit to Armenia by Pope John Paul II.

According to one senior cleric–the Catholicos gathered all of the Etchmiadzin clergy in his room late last week to tell them that he "will join God soon" and asked them to perform a religious song. The 67-year-old Armenian spiritual leader suffering from throat cancer is "weak in the flesh but very strong in the spirit," he said.

"I will be happy if you continue our work with love and dedication," the cleric quoted Karekin I as telling the priesthood in a written statement. In an indication of the Catholicos’ deteriorating health–Etchmiadzin’s press office said on Wednesday he is in "grave" condition.

The Church’s previous press release used the word "poor" to describe his condition. But the Apostolic Church–to which over 90 percent of Armenia’s from around the world are believed to belong–also expressed "regret" over what it called "untrue and unfounded information" disseminated by unspecified media organizations.

Russia’s Orthodox Patriarch Alexi II said on Tuesday he shares the "sorrow and sadness of the entire Armenian people."

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