By Emil Danielyan
Pope John Paul II ended the second day of his visit to Armenia Wednesday with an emotional call for the reunification of different Christian denominations, including the Armenian Apostolic Church.
The 81-year-old pontiff, who has sought to promote inter-church dialogue with his frequent trips abroad, made the appeal during an ecumenical service at a newly built cathedral of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Yerevan. The ceremony was attended by nearly two thousand people who greeted the Pope and the Armenian spiritual leader, Catholicos Garegin II, with rapturous applause.
“For long centuries contacts between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Church of Rome were warm and intense, and the desire for full unity never disappeared altogether,” John Paul said in a homily mid-way through the ceremony. “My visit today testifies to our shared yearning to dwell in the full unity which the Lord wills for his disciples.”
The Pope praised the Armenian church for its willingness to engage in dialogue with other denominations and what he described as a “remarkable openness of spirit.” He said his visit testifies to the improving relations between the Roman Catholic and Armenian churches.
And he went on to declare that all Christian churches of the world should eventually “walk together in unity of faith” while respecting their distinctive identities and traditions. “As we work for full communion, let us do together what we do not have to do separately…Never again Christians against Christians, never again Church against Church.”
The ceremony, accompanied prayers and a choral performance of Armenian spiritual songs, culminated in John Paul’s blessing of the relics of Gregory the Illuminator, the 4th century founder of the Armenian church. They were handed over to Garegin by the Vatican last year and were laid rest in the new Yerevan cathedral.
Garegin said the relics are “the most precious gift” to Armenia, which is celebrating the 1700th anniversary of adopting Christianity as a state religion. “We are particularly happy that the Catholic Church, rich in so many traditions, is celebrating it also.”
Turning to the subject of Christian unity, the Catholicos said he will continue his predecessors’ policy “aimed at strengthening the cooperation between Christian Churches.”