Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state, ended on Thursday a three-day visit to Armenia that was overshadowed by its grave political crisis.
The visit, originally scheduled to start on Sunday, was put off for two days because of Saturday’s clashes between Armenian security forces and opposition supporters that left at least eight people dead and more than 100 others injured.
The unrest was a major topic of his meetings and joint prayers with Catholicos Garegin II, head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. “They prayed together for the souls of the victims and asked the Lord to keep and protect the Armenian people and reinforce them with faith, hope and love,” read a joint communiqué issued by the two clerics.
“The Cardinal expressed the complete support of the Catholic Church to the Armenian Church, for her efforts utilizing her high moral standing, aimed at providing solutions to all concerns through the promotion of dialogue and peaceful means and fostering a common sense of responsibility, so that the dignity of the Armenian people and state remain unharmed within international society,” said the statement.
The statement also said Bertone’s visit is a “sign of the continuing development of ties” between the two churches. “May God bless Armenia and all Armenians – the first Christian people in the world – so that all of Christendom can continue to enjoy their exceptional and irreplaceable contributions,” it added.
According to the Vatican's daily newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, Bertone told Garegin that Benedict XVI "joyfully awaits you in Rome to express in person his admiration for the extraordinary cultural and spiritual treasure that Armenians have given to humanity." Benedict’s late predecessor, John Paul II, became in 2001 the first Catholic pontiff to ever visit Armenia.
Bertone also met with outgoing President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister and President-elect Serzh Sarkisian. Kocharian described the cardinal’s visit as “yet another indication of high-level partnership” between the Roman Catholic and Armenian Churches.
(Photolur photo: Bertone lays flowers at the Armenian genocide memorial in Yerevan.)