VATICAN CITY—Pope Francis received the Patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Karekin II, on Thursday at the Vatican. The Catholicos is in Rome on a three-day visit that concludes on May 9. In remarks prepared for the occasion, Pope Francis recalled Pope St. John Paul II’s 2001 visit to Armenia, and the many other visits the Catholicos has made to Rome and to the Popes in the Vatican, especially his 2008 visit to Pope Benedict XVI and his participation in the inauguration of Pope Francis’ own pontificate.
The Holy Father went on to recall Catholicos Karekin’s participation in the Jubilee year commemoration of the Witnesses to the Faith of the 20th century.
“In truth,” said Pope Francis, “the number of disciples who shed their blood for Christ in the tragic events of the last century is certainly superior to that of the martyrs of the first centuries, and in this martyrdome, the children of the Armenian nation have a place of honor.” Pope Francis went on to say, “The mystery of the Cross, Holiness, so dear to the memory of your people, represented in the splendid stone crosses that adorn every corner of your land, has been lived by countless of your children as a direct participation in the chalice of the Passion.” “Their testimony,” he continued, “at once high and tragic, must not be forgotten.”
Pope Francis went on to say that the suffering endured by Christians in recent decades has brought a unique and inestimable contribution also to the cause of Christian unity.
“As in the ancient Church, the blood of the martyrs became the seed of new Christians,” said Pope Francis, “so in our day the blood of many Christians has become the seed of unity.” The Pope continued, saying, “The ecumenism of suffering and the ecumenism of martyrdom, the ecumenism of blood is a powerful call to journey along the road of reconciliation among the Churches, with decision and with trusting abandonment to the action of the Spirit.” Pope Francis said, “We feel the duty to go down this road of fraternity, also because of the debt of gratitude we owe to the suffering of our brothers, which has become salvific because it has been united to the passion of Christ.”
Below is the transcript of Catholicos Karekin II’s speech at the Vatican.
Remarks of His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians On the Occasion of the Meeting with His Holiness Francis, Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Roman Catholic Church
Your Holiness and Beloved Brother in Christ,
We offer thanks to the Most High, that through His merciful will and Your Holiness’ kind hospitality, we once again enjoy the opportunity to renew the divine love between our Churches and our brotherhood with an embrace of Christian love; and standing before the imperatives of the present time, to strengthen the collaboration between our Churches. Today, with a joyful heart, we greet you with the words of the Psalmist, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” Psalm 132:1.
Our memories of your enthronement ceremonies remain fresh, where we were present together with the president of the Republic of Armenia and representatives of our Sister Churches, and experienced the opportunity to pray for longevity and a fruitful reign for Your Holiness. A prolific time has passed since that memorable day. We have followed with happiness the multifaceted activities of Your Holiness, who with divine vigor, as the brave chief shepherd and with diligent dedication, is realizing his mission and increasing labors for the benefit of the vibrancy, welfare and reformation of the Catholic Church; and also contributes greatly to the reinforcement of the Christian faith and spiritual-moral values throughout the entire world, the defense of human rights, and the establishment of harmony and peace on earth. Your Holiness’ special attention to the youth, and your care for the poor and those in trouble, have resounded greatly in the souls of men, and strengthens the love for you and toward Christ’s Holy Church. Our Church too, ancient and established by the Holy Apostles, having shaken off the Soviet, God-denying years, and filled with new energy is accomplishing the God-commanded mission in Armenia – the biblical land of Ararat; and in Artsakh – the Republic of Nagorno Karabagh – that is struggling to secure recognition of its right to live free and independent; and in the life of our people dispersed throughout the various countries of the world. The Armenian Church places great importance and attention on working with the youth, to educate the young generation in spiritual and moral values, to supporting the poor, and to dealing with the contemporary challenges facing mankind, in accord with the holy inheritance of our fathers and the holy commandments of the Gospel.
It is with contentment we reflect that as we triumph over the many challenges facing the Church, we have been able to record positive examples of cooperation with the Catholic Church. Indeed, the relationships between the Armenian and Catholic Churches have their historical roots. Our bilateral relations have been significantly effective during the reigns of Armenian Church pontiffs of luminous memory Gregory III Pahlavuni and St Nerses the Graceful, as well as the times of Popes Innocent II and Anastasius IV. And today as well, with thanks to God, relations are living an era of mutual development. Our relations are nourished by the reciprocal visits of the heads of our Churches, and on the diocesan and parochial levels, through inter-church activities and the realization of concurrent educational and charitable programs. Young Armenian clergy, who have continued their educations in Catholic institutions of higher learning, today are providing their selfless service to the Armenian Church. We place importance on the ongoing theological dialogue between the Ancient (Oriental) Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church, whose goal is to elevate our commonalities and the reinforcement of our bilateral relationships.
Dear Brother in Christ, our meeting today is symbolic, since on May 8 and 9, many nations and states commemorate the victory over the worldwide evil of fascism. Humanity, which has experienced the destructions and violence of two world wars in the 20th century, is still unable to free itself from the horrors of wars, humanitarian and environmental disasters, and political and economic crises. Today in different corners of the world, conflicts have erupted, which bring sorrow and suffering to men, dispense ruin and loss, and increase need and poverty. In our daily prayers are the people in those countries who find themselves in conflict, and in particular, Ukraine, the Middle East and Syria, which is among the cradles of Christianity, and for centuries was a dwelling place of peaceful coexistence for Muslim and Christian peoples.
Recently added to the horrors occurring Syria was the destruction and removal of Armenians in the primarily Armenian-populated village of Kessab by militant extremists with the assistance of Turkey. We strongly condemn conflicts and terrorism that disrupt the peace of the world, and which are thoroughly against the will of God, as the Apostle says, “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.” 1 Corinthians 4:33.
In Syria, in the deserts of Der Zor, rest thousands of Armenians who were victims of the 20th century’s first crime against of humanity – the Armenian Genocide. Syria gave refuge to the sons and daughters of the Armenians who survived the terrors. The saying is true that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Regrettably, by not condemning the Genocide of the Armenians at the time, the world bore witness to yet another crime that was implemented during the Second World War against the Jewish people. And still fresh in our memories are the genocides in Sudan and Darfur…
We are well aware that Your Holiness, during the years of your tenure in Argentina, and also now as the Pontiff of the Catholic Church, has presented your clear position on the Armenian Genocide. Next year, the Armenian people in Armenia and the Dispersion will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Genocide of the Armenians. Dear Brother in Christ, we invite Your Holiness to visit the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin in 2015. It will be spiritually consoling for our sons and daughters to stand in united prayer with Your Holiness’ in the Mother Cathedral of the Descent of the Only Begotten, to offer supplications up to Almighty God for the innocent victims of the Genocide, for peace on earth and the wellbeing of mankind.
With feelings of boundless consolation, we also inform you that our Holy Church has commenced on the path of canonization of the martyrs of the Armenian Genocide, and by the merciful will of God, the process will be completed by 2015.
We pray to God, to grant long years of sun-filled reign to Your Holiness, for the vibrancy of the Catholic Church and the prosperity of your faithful flock. May the Lord keep His Holy Church strong with countless graces, keep the brotherhood between our Churches strong, and grant a cloudless and tranquil sky over the entire earth and the whole of mankind.
“Lead us, O Lord our God, and teach us to walk your path in righteousness; keep our life in peace, and our course according to Your will. Amen” Armenian Book of Hours (Breviary).