ETCHMIADZIN (RFE/RL)–His Holiness Karekin II–Catholicos of All Armenia’s–said Thursday that he still hopes that Pope John Paul II will pay a visit to Armenia and that he plans to discuss its possibility during a trip to Vatican later this year.
A first-ever papal visit to Armenia–officially scheduled for July 1999–was cancelled due to the rapidly deteriorating health condition and subsequent death in June the same year of the previous Armenian Catholicos–Karekin I. Vatican officials said at the time that John Paul still wants to make the trip some time in the near future
"We plan to visit Rome in November to pay our respects to the pontiff as the newly elected head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. During our conversations we will certainly raise the issue of the Pope’s visit to Armenia," Karekin II told RFE/RL in an interview. The feasibility of such a trip will depend on the pontiff’s health condition–the chief Armenian cleric added.
The Pope’s arrival in Armenia was originally timed to take place ahead of next year’s official celebrations of the 1700th anniversary of its adoption of Christianity. An ancient Armenian kingdom was the first in the world to declare Christianity a state religion in 301 AD. Armenian clerics and government officials hoped that the Pope will pay a tribute to the country’s contribution to the faith and expose its Christian identity to the outside world.
Karekin II said that while in Vatican he will receive from the Roman Catholic Church relics of St. Gregory the Illuminator–the founder of the Armenian Church. The relics will be eventually placed in a new cathedral currently built in Yerevan. Its construction is due to be completed by June 2001–at the height of the anniversary celebrations.