By Ruzanna Khachatrian
President Robert Kocharian congratulated Pope Benedict XVI Wednesday on his election as head of the Roman Catholic Church, expressing hope that he will reinforce the Vatican’s warm relations with Armenia and its Apostolic Church.
“I believe that all of your initiatives pleasing to God will end in success and that the Roman Catholic Church will continue to make its important contribution to religious tolerance and the strengthening of international peace,” Kocharian said in a letter to the new pontiff.
“I am confident that the already warm and friendly relations between Armenia and the Vatican, the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches will grow stronger during your reign,” he added.
The head of the Armenian Church, Garegin II, was expected to send a congratulatory message to the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger later in the day. Garegin attended his predecessor John Paul II’s funeral along with Prime Minister Andranik Markarian.
John Paul’s 26-year papacy saw a major rapprochement between the two churches, a fact emphasized by the number two figure in the Armenian church, the Lebanese-based Catholicos Aram I. John Paul was the first head of the Catholic Church to have ever visited Armenia.
“I am confident that the new Pope will continue the relationship between the two Catholicosates of our church with renewed vigor,” Aram told RFE/RL from his headquarters near Beirut. “We must and will continue our cooperation and theological dialogue with the Catholic Church.”
Incidentally, the new pontiff, previously known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, chose the name of Pope Benedict XV who had raised his voice in 1915 in defense of “the sorely afflicted Armenian people brought to the brink of annihilation” in the Ottoman Empire. John Paul presented the Genocide museum in Yerevan with a picture of Benedict XV when he visited the adjacent memorial to the victims of the mass killings in September 2001.
Many Armenians will also welcome the new Pope’s past opposition to Turkey’s membership in the European Union which prompted concern from Turkish newspapers on Wednesday. Aram made it clear that he is among them.
“I would be very happy if he has a clear-cut stance on Turkey’s accession to the European Union,” the Catholicos said. “I have publicly stated and will always state that the European Union is not an economic union. It is a union based on human, moral and, to a certain extent, spiritual values. I therefore wonder how Turkey, which does not embrace those values, can join a family that has a totally different essence and identity.”