Pope Francis Concludes Historic Visit to Armenia
Pope Participates in Divine Liturgy at Etchmiadzin, Signs Joint Declaration with Karekin II, Releases Doves at Armenia-Turkey Border
ETCHMIADZIN (A.W.)—On Sun. June 26, the last day of his historic visit to Armenia, Pope Francis held a meeting with the Catholic Bishops of Armenia in the Apostolic Palace at Etchmiadzin, after which he participated in the Divine Liturgy at the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral. At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, the Catholicos of all Armenians Karekin II thanked the Pope for his “brotherly visit” to the country and prayed that the Lord “keep firm our Churches in love and collaboration” and “grant us new opportunities for witness of brotherhood,” reported Vatican Radio.
“Goodness will prevail in the world and current challenges will be overcome by these commands of God, and by utilizing spiritual and moral values. All good works express God’s care towards humanity and the world, according to the words of the Lord, ‘behold the kingdom of God is within you’ (Luke 17:21), and as an affirmation of this, the churches of the world bring their service,” said Karekin II during his sermon at the Etchmiadzin Cathedral.
During his sermon, Karekin II also spoke about the minorities of Armenia and their participation in Armenian life. “The inseparable mission of the Church of Christ is the strengthening of solidarity among nations and peoples, reinforcing of brotherhood and collaboration, and a witness to this is the participation in this Divine Liturgy today of the ethnic minorities in Armenia: the Assyrians, Belarus, Greeks, Georgians, Jews, Yezidis, Kurds, Germans, Poles, Russians, and Ukrainians, who in brotherly coexistence with our people bring their assistance towards the development of our country and the progress of social life,” said the Catholicos.
In his address, Pope Francis called for peace in the Armenian Church, for “complete” communion, and prayed for “an ardent desire for unity” among Christians. The Pope also urged the faithful to “listen to the voices of the humble and poor, of the many victims of hatred who suffered and gave their lives for the faith” and to the youth “who seek a future free of past divisions.”
“From this holy place may a radiant light shine forth once more, and to the light of faith, which has illumined these lands from the time of Saint Gregory, your Father in the Gospel, may there be joined the light of the love that forgives and reconciles,” said Pope Francis, as he called for Christian unity. (See below for Vatican Radio’s English translation of Pope Francis’ discourse in full)
Pope Francis, Karekin II Issue Joint Declaration
Following the Divine Liturgy, the Pope participated in a special ecumenical lunch with Catholicos Karekin II, Archbishops, and Bishops of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholic Bishops of Armenia, and Cardinals and Bishops from the Papal entourage in the Apostolic Palace. After the meeting with delegates and benefactors of the Apostolic Armenian Church in the Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis and Karekin II signed a joint declaration, giving thanks for the progress towards Christian unity, and appealing for peace in the Middle East and other regions torn apart by conflict, terrorism and religious persecution, reported Vatican Radio.
In their common statement, the two patriarchs called for a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabagh (Artsakh/NKR) conflict. The declaration also recalls “the extermination of a million and a half Armenian Christians, in what is generally referred to as the first genocide of the twentieth century.” In the statement, the two also pray for a change of heart in all who commit violence, as well as imploring leaders of nations to hear the cry of those people “who have urgent need of bread, not guns.” (See below for the full text of the Common Declaration of Pope Francis and Catholicos Karekin II at Holy Etchmiadzin)
Pope Francis and Karekin II Visit Khor Virap, Release Doves at Armenia-Turkey Border
Pope Francis ended his three-day journey to Armenia by visiting Khor Virap monastery—a significant holy site linked to Armenia’s conversion to Christianity. “That of the Pope and the Patriarch standing out against the skyline in unison in the shadow of the snow-capped Mount, as together they release two white doves which flutter into the evening light before soaring up high. A striking gesture which holds within it a symbol of unity and peace,” reported Vatican Radio.
During his visit to Khor Virap, the Pope made his way to the room known as the “Well of Saint Gregory,” to light a candle before making his way to the nearby Chapel to pray.
“Before leaving this land which Pope Francis has described as ‘beloved’ he expressed the idea that it was a grace to find himself on these heights where, beneath the gaze of Mount Ararat, the very silence seems to speak. And where the ‘khatchkar’–the stone crosses–recount a singular history bound up with rugged faith and immense suffering. A history, he went on to say, replete with magnificent testimonies to the Gospel, to which you the Armenian people are heirs,” reported Vatican Radio.
The Pope then departed to Rome following a farewell ceremony on the Zvartnots Airport runway with Armenian President Serge Sarkisian, Catholicos Karekin II, and leaders of the Catholic community of Armenia.
Below is Vatican Radio’s English translation of Pope Francis’ discourse during the Divine Liturgy at Etchmiadzin in full.
Your Holiness, Dear Bishops,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
At the end of this greatly-desired visit, one already unforgettable for me, I join my gratitude to the Lord with the great hymn of praise and thanksgiving that rose from this altar. Your Holiness, in these days you have opened to me the doors of your home, and we have experienced “how good and pleasant it is when brothers live in unity” (Ps 133:1). We have met, we have embraced as brothers, we have prayed together and shared the gifts, hopes and concerns of the Church of Christ. We have felt as one her beating heart, and we believe and experience that the Church is one. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4-6). With great joy we can make our own these words of the Apostle Paul! Our meeting comes under the aegis of the holy Apostles whom we have encountered. Saints Bartholomew and Thaddeus, who first proclaimed the Gospel in these lands, and Saints Peter and Paul who gave their lives for the Lord in Rome and now reign with Christ in heaven, surely rejoice to see our affection and our tangible longing for full communion. For all this, I thank the Lord, for you and with you: Park astutsò! (Glory to God!).
During this Divine Liturgy, the solemn chant of the Trisagion rose to heaven, acclaiming God’s holiness. May abundant blessings of the Most High fill the earth through the intercession of the Mother of God, the great saints and doctors, the martyrs, especially the many whom you canonized last year in this place. May “the Only Begotten who descended here” bless our journey. May the Holy Spirit make all believers one heart and soul; may he come to re-establish us in unity. For this I once more invoke the Holy Spirit, making my own the splendid words that are part of your Liturgy. Come, Holy Spirit, you “who intercede with ceaseless sighs to the merciful Father, you who watch over the saints and purify sinners,” bestow on us your fire of love and unity, and “may the cause of our scandal be dissolved by this love” (Gregory of Narek, Book of Lamentations, 33, 5), above all the lack of unity among Christ’s disciples.
May the Armenian Church walk in peace and may the communion between us be complete. May an ardent desire for unity rise up in our hearts, a unity that must not be “the submission of one to the other, or assimilation, but rather the acceptance of all the gifts that God has given to each. This will reveal to the entire world the great mystery of salvation accomplished by Christ the Lord through the Holy Spirit” (Greeting at the Divine Liturgy, Patriarchal Church of Saint George, Istanbul, 30 November 2014).
Let us respond to the appeal of the saints, let us listen to the voices of the humble and poor, of the many victims of hatred who suffered and gave their lives for the faith. Let us pay heed to the younger generation, who seek a future free of past divisions. From this holy place may a radiant light shine forth once more, and to the light of faith, which has illumined these lands from the time of Saint Gregory, your Father in the Gospel, may there be joined the light of the love that forgives and reconciles.
Just as on Easter morning the Apostles, for all their hesitations and uncertainties, ran towards the place of the resurrection, drawn by the blessed dawn of new hope (cf. Jn 20:3-4), so too on this holy Sunday may we follow God’s call to full communion and hasten towards it.
Now, Your Holiness, in the name of God, I ask you to bless me, to bless me and the Catholic Church, and to bless this our path towards full unity.
Below is the full text of the Common Declaration of Pope Francis and Catholicos Karekin II at Holy Etchmiadzin.
Today in Holy Etchmiadzin, spiritual center of All Armenians, we, Pope Francis and Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II raise our minds and hearts in thanksgiving to the Almighty for the continuing and growing closeness in faith and love between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church in their common witness to the Gospel message of salvation in a world torn by strife and yearning for comfort and hope. We praise the Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for enabling us to come together in the biblical land of Ararat, which stands as a reminder that God will ever be our protection and salvation. We are spiritually gratified to remember that in 2001, on the occasion of the 1700th anniversary of the proclamation of Christianity as the religion of Armenia, Saint John Paul II visited Armenia and was a witness to a new page in warm and fraternal relations between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church. We are grateful that we had the grace of being together, at a solemn liturgy in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome on 12 April 2015, where we pledged our will to oppose every form of discrimination and violence, and commemorated the victims of what the Common Declaration of His Holiness John-Paul II and His Holiness Karekin II spoke of as “the extermination of a million and a half Armenian Christians, in what is generally referred to as the first genocide of the twentieth century” (27 September 2001).
We praise the Lord that today, the Christian faith is again a vibrant reality in Armenia, and that the Armenian Church carries on her mission with a spirit of fraternal collaboration between the Churches, sustaining the faithful in building a world of solidarity, justice and peace.
Sadly, though, we are witnessing an immense tragedy unfolding before our eyes, of countless innocent people being killed, displaced or forced into a painful and uncertain exile by continuing conflicts on ethnic, economic, political and religious grounds in the Middle East and other parts of the world. As a result, religious and ethnic minorities have become the target of persecution and cruel treatment, to the point that suffering for one’s religious belief has become a daily reality. The martyrs belong to all the Churches and their suffering is an “ecumenism of blood” which transcends the historical divisions between Christians, calling us all to promote the visible unity of Christ’s disciples. Together we pray, through the intercession of the holy Apostles, Peter and Paul, Thaddeus and Bartholomew, for a change of heart in all those who commit such crimes and those who are in a position to stop the violence. We implore the leaders of nations to listen to the plea of millions of human beings who long for peace and justice in the world, who demand respect for their God-given rights, who have urgent need of bread, not guns. Sadly, we are witnessing a presentation of religion and religious values in a fundamentalist way, which is used to justify the spread of hatred, discrimination and violence. The justification of such crimes on the basis of religious ideas is unacceptable, for “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace” (I Corinthians 14:33). Moreover, respect for religious difference is the necessary condition for the peaceful cohabitation of different ethnic and religious communities. Precisely because we are Christians, we are called to seek and implement paths towards reconciliation and peace. In this regard we also express our hope for a peaceful resolution of the issues surrounding Nagorno-Karabagh.
Mindful of what Jesus taught his disciples when he said: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25: 35-36), we ask the faithful of our Churches to open their hearts and hands to the victims of war and terrorism, to refugees and their families. At issue is the very sense of our humanity, our solidarity, compassion and generosity, which can only be properly expressed in an immediate practical commitment of resources. We acknowledge all that is already being done, but we insist that much more is needed on the part of political leaders and the international community in order to ensure the right of all to live in peace and security, to uphold the rule of law, to protect religious and ethnic minorities, to combat human trafficking and smuggling.
The secularization of large sectors of society, its alienation from the spiritual and divine, leads inevitably to a desacralized and materialistic vision of man and the human family. In this respect we are concerned about the crisis of the family in many countries. The Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church share the same vision of the family, based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between man and woman.
We gladly confirm that despite continuing divisions among Christians, we have come to realize more clearly that what unites us is much more than what divides us. This is the solid basis upon which the unity of Christ’s Church will be made manifest, in accordance with the Lord’s words, “that they all may be one” (John 17.21). Over the past decades the relationship between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church has successfully entered a new phase, strengthened by our mutual prayers and joint efforts in overcoming contemporary challenges. Today we are convinced of the crucial importance of furthering this relationship, engaging in deeper and more decisive collaboration not only in the area of theology, but also in prayer and active cooperation on the level of the local communities, with a view to sharing full communion and concrete expressions of unity. We urge our faithful to work in harmony for the promotion in society of the Christian values which effectively contribute to building a civilization of justice, peace and human solidarity. The path of reconciliation and brotherhood lies open before us. May the Holy Spirit, who guides us into all truth (cf. John 16:13), sustain every genuine effort to build bridges of love and communion between us.
From Holy Etchmiadzin we call on all our faithful to join us in prayer, in the words of Saint Nerses the Gracious: “Glorified Lord, accept the supplications of Your servants, and graciously fulfil our petitions, through the intercession of the Holy Mother of God, John the Baptist, the first martyr Saint Stephen, Saint Gregory our Illuminator, the Holy Apostles, Prophets, Divines, Martyrs, Patriarchs, Hermits, Virgins and all Your saints in Heaven and on Earth. And unto You, O indivisible Holy Trinity, be glory and worship forever and ever. Amen”.
Holy Etchmiadzin, 26 June 2016
His Holiness Francis
His Holiness Karekin II
Source: Armenian Weekly Mid-West