VATICAN CITY—Pope Francis on Thursday was joined by the His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians and His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia along with President Serzh Sarkisian for the unveiling of a bronze statue of St. Gregory of Narek, which was erected in the Vatican Gardens.
St Gregory of Narek is recognized as a Saint in both the Catholic Church, being venerated in a particular way among Catholics of the Armenian Rite, and in the Armenian Apostolic Church.
The bronze statue, designed by David Yerevantsi, was smelted in the Czech Republic under the joint sponsorship of Mikael Minasyan, Armenia’s ambassador to the Holy Sea, and Artur Janibekyan, the director of Gazprom Media Holding (Moscow).
In an interview with the Vatican News on Wednesday, Ambassador Minasyan highly praised the idea, describing it as a sign of fraternity and close friendship.
“The idea to erect the statue of Saint Gregory of Narek in the gardens of Vatican stands as a symbol of fraternity between the two churches and all the Christians, particularly those in the Middle East,” he said.
“This is a present from the Armenian people, and we hope that one day a statue of St. Gregory of Narek will be installed in the Vatican,” Minasyan said in an interview with the Catholic News Agency.
Pope Francis responded: “I do like both the statue and the idea.”
“St. Gregory of Narek,” Minasyan said, “is a bridge. He is the bridge between the Armenian Church and Catholic Church. He is a bridge between our two realities, and very importantly, he’s a bridge two worlds: the Armenian world and the Western world. He is a bridge between East and West. He is bridge between land and sky.”
The ground for Thursday’s ceremony was laid by Pope Francis on April 12, 2015 when he celebrated Mass in St Peter’s marking the centenary of the genocide of a million and a half Armenians whom the Pope referred to as martyrs. “A century has passed since that horrific massacre which was a true martyrdom of your people, in which many innocent people died as confessors and martyrs for the name of Christ,” Pope Francis said on that occasion.
During that same liturgy, Pope Francis elevated St Gregory of Narek to the dignity of Doctor of the Universal Church. The Pope characterized St Gregory as a monk who “knew how to express the sentiments of your people more than anyone,” and who, as “an extraordinary interpreter of the human soul, offers words which are prophetic for us.”
Later in June 2016, he visited Armenia. Calling the genocide “the first of the deplorable series of catastrophes of the past century,” Pope Francis praised the faith of the Armenian people, “who, illuminated by the light of the Gospel, even at the most tragic moments of their history, have always found in the cross and resurrection of Christ the strength to rise again and take up their journey anew with dignity.”
A replica of the same statue is currently in production and will be placed in the gardens of the Cathedral of Etchmiadzin where an inauguration ceremony will be held at the end of 2018. The Cathedral of Etchmiadzin is the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and is considered by scholars to be the oldest Cathedral build in ancient Armenia, and is among one of the oldest Cathedrals in the world.
“St. Gregory of Narek is the author of the spiritual constitution of Armenia and the Armenian people. He is the symbol of our culture, which is, at one time, an Armenian, international and Christian culture,” Ambassador Minasyan told CNA.
The ambassador said that “St. Gregory of Narek is a real ecumenical doctor of the Church, since he was not a Catholic and has never been a member of the Roman Catholic Church.”
He added that “St. Gregory of Narek is the symbol of the ecumenism of blood, and the symbol of our destruction and genocide, since even the Narek monastery, where he lived, was destroyed, as was as his tomb, during the Armenian genocide.”
Minasyan said that the installation of the statue seems like a piece of Armenia is placed in the Vatican, because “St. Gregory of Narek is very present in the daily life of Armenian people, and this is for real. His ‘Book of Lamentations’ is still used as a book to cure sick people, it is in every hospital, and is used not only as a spiritual medicine, but also as a medicine of the body.”
The installation of the statue also symbolizes the impact of diplomatic relations between Armenia and Holy See, which were opened 25 years ago.
“Our diplomatic relation are 25 years old and, at the same time, 1700 years old, because it is not just about the relations between the Holy See and the Republic of Armenia, but also between the Armenian world and the Catholic world,” Ambassador Minasyan said.
Gregory of Narek was a 10th century Armenian monk, poet, and mystical writer and composer. His most well-known literary work is a book of prayers, known as the “Book of Lamentations”. It is considered a masterpiece of Armenian literature. St Gregory himself defined the work as an “encyclopedia of prayer for all nations”. He voiced hope that his book would provide guidance in prayer for people of all walks of life in order to reach God.
President Sarkisian, Pope Meet
President Sarkisian had an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican Thuesday morning ahead of the St. Gregory of Nark stature unveiling ceremony. The President thanked the Pontiff for his commitment to the development of relations between Armenia and the Holy See and for the sincere and warm dialogue established.
Sarkisian also expressed gratitude for the Pope’s decision to erect the statue of 10th century Armenian monk Gregory of Narek in the heart of Vatican. He informed that a copy of the statue will be unveiled in Armenia’s religious capital of Etchmiadzin.
Thus, Sarkisian said, Gregory of Narek and his legacy will become an en eternal symbol of solidarity between the two Christian communities.
The two leaders expressed willingness to keep developing and deepening the irelations between Armenia and the Vatican, and strengthening the existing religious and cultural ties between the two countries.
The President and the Pontiff then exchanged gifts. Sarkisian presented the Pope a silver model of the Armenian St. Gayane Church.
Pope Francis, in turn, presented a marble copy of the sculpture of the Holy Family kept in the Vatican Museum, as well as the copies of his most recent three books.