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AFP
Pope Benedict XVI on Friday recalled the "martyrdom" of the Armenian Apostolic Church during a visit by its leader Garegin II, avoiding the word "genocide" pronounced several times by his predecessor John Paul II.

Garegin II, on the fourth and final day of a visit to the Vatican, had on Wednesday urged "all nations to universally denounce the Armenian genocide" in a speech to some 20,000 people gathered in St Peter's Square.

On Friday, however, the pope said: "The recent history of the Armenian Apostolic Church has been written in the contrasting colors of persecution and martyrdom, darkness and hope, humiliation and spiritual rebirth. "The restoration of freedom to the Church in Armenia has been a source of great joy for us all," the 81-year-old pontiff added.

In November 2000, a meeting at the Vatican between John Paul II and Garegin II ended with a joint statement condemning the Armenian genocide.

The following year, at Garegin II's invitation, the Polish pope traveled to Armenia where the two religious leaders again spoke of "the extermination of one-and-a-half million Armenian Christians in what is generally called the first genocide of the 20th century." John Paul II also spoke of the "annihilation of thousands of people that followed under the former totalitarian regime," referring to Soviet-era religious persecution.

On Friday, Garegin II invited Benedict XVI to visit Armenia both in his own name and on behalf of new President Serzh Sarkisian. The two religious leaders had private talks after the pope led an ecumenical celebration in the Apostolic Palace's imposing Clementine Hall.

The Armenian Apostolic Church, one of the world's oldest independent churches, numbers some seven million adherents of whom more than two million live in present-day Armenia.
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