YEREVAN (Noyan Tapan)–President of the Republic of Armenia Robert Kocharian extolled the close relations between the Vatican and the Armenian Apostolic Church that are based on historical ties enriching both sister churches. The first-ever visit of the Pontiff to Armenia has a special value and significance for this country–the visit is highly symbolic because it is during the events marking the 1700th Anniversary of the adoption of Christianity as Armenia’s state religion. Greeting Pope John-Paul II at the Zvartnots airport on September 25–the President of Armenia was very happy with the dominating ecumenical spirit in these relations.
President Kocharian welcomed the Pontiff and said–"This indeed is a historic occasion for us–the first visit ever in the history of the Holy See of the Head of the Roman Catholic Church to Armenia. The history of Christianity–which is so closely related to the achievemen’s of human civilization–is our common bond. Having been amply tested throughout seventeen centuries–our shared faith and values now provide strong foundations for the warmth of our relations. This is why we are confident–that this visit is of an historical nature in terms of expanding and deepening still further the relations between the Republic of Armenia and the Vatican. The history of Christianity–which is directly connected with the achievemen’s of human civilization–is our common history. Our faith and values that went through numerous trials and tribulations over seventeen centuries is a guarantee of the firmness and warmth of our relations. Therefore we are full of hope that this visit will become a landmark event in terms of further developing and deepening cooperation between the Republic of Armenia and the Vatican."
"Your efforts in Eastern Europe and Russia’signal the beginning of a new era for human and national freedoms. The universal nature of your work–your efforts to preserve peace and stability in the world are an inspiration to us. In today’s world–when we become witnesses to numerous manifestations of hatred–such pan-human values as kindness–beauty–fraternal love become much more so dear to us," said the president.
The president also said that because of its geographic location–Armenia has always been at the crossroads of religions and civilizations. "This reality and the presence of a large Armenian Diaspora have opened up new horizons for us to learn new things about the world around us. It has given us a broad world outlook and bestowed such human virtues as solidarity and tolerance upon us."
"We welcome the strengthening of relations between the Vatican and the Armenian Apostolic Church–enriched as they are by centuries of tradition between sister Churches. We are enthusiastic about the ecumenical spirit with which these relations are guided today. It is an honor to welcome you–Your Holiness–to Armenia–at the foot of Biblical Mount Ararat. Your presence brings a special significance to our most special celebrations. The visit of the Roman Pope is an important event in the life of every country. Welcome," concluded Kocharian.
At the airport the Pope was met with the traditional bread and salt as well as with a handful of Armenian soil–which he kissed and blessed. Hymns of the Vatican and Armenia were performed–and salutatory addresses were made. Speaker of the Armenian National Assembly Armen Khachatrian–Prime Minister Andranik Markarian–other officials–foreign ambassadors to Armenia–clergymen of the Armenian Apostolic Church and of the Armenian Catholic Church–all met the Pope at the Airport with President Kocharian.
The Catholicos of All Armenia’s Karekin II expressed his happiness that the Pope’s visit to the Armenia is in the year that Armenia’s everywhere are celebrating the 1700th anniversary of proclamation of Christianity and the 10th anniversary of Armenia’s independence. "In these days of grace–your presence in Armenia–is a special joy for us. We want to point out with gratefulness that you are sharing our joy today just as you were our support after the devastating earthquake in Spitak," said Catholicos Karekin II.
"The annals of the Universal church will always claim that Armenia’s residents were the first to accept the truth and grace of Jesus Christ’s gospel," said His Holiness. Remembering the past of the Armenian Apostolic Church–he gladly stated that the Armenian people are keeping the memory of its martyrs–and that martyrdom was a prominent characteristic of the Armenian people and church. "May the Lord bless the Armenian people with freedom–well-being and peace," said His Holiness. The same day–the Pope went to the Mother Sea of the Armenian Apostolic Church–Holy Etchmiadzin.
During his three-day visit–the Pope will visit the presidential residence–the Memorial to the Memory of the Genocide victims–the Chapel of the First Catholicos of All Armenia’s Gregory the Illuminator in Khor Virap.
An ecumenical ceremony will be held with the participation of the Pope and the Catholicos of All Armenia’s at the St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral in Yerevan. A liturgy will be served at the Mother Sea of Holy Etchmiadzin in accordance with the Roman rites. From Yerevan–the Pope will return to the Vatican.
The Armenian government has taken extra measures to protect the health of the Pontiff during his visit to Armenia. The Ministry of Health of Armenia has assigned three ambulance cars and a brigade of cardiologists to accompany the Pope during his trip. Two personal doctors are accompanying the Pontiff.
John Paul II is the first Pope to visit Armenia. However–the leaders of the Armenian Apostolic Church met with him in Vatican before.
In 1970 Catholicos of All Armenia’s Vazgen I had a meeting with Pope Paul VI. Catholicos Karekin I and Catholicos Karekin II had meetings with the Pope in 1996 and 2000 respectively. During Karekin II’s visit an ecumenical ceremony was held at St. Peter Cathedral–during which a relic of Gregory the Illuminator was handed to Karekin II in the presence of John Paul II. Over 500 years the relic had been kept in St. Gregory the Armenian Cathedral in Neapol.