Highlighting its warm relations with the Roman Catholic Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church sent two bishops to Sunday’s ceremony in the Vatican that saw Pope Francis proclaim his predecessors John XXIII and John Paul II saints.
The double papal canonization took place in St. Peter’s square in front of more than half a million pilgrims. Bishops Ashot Mnatsakanian and Vahan Hovannisian, who head the Armenian church’s dioceses in Egypt and Britain respectively, were among foreign dignitaries also present at the ceremony.
The Echmiadzin office of Catholicos Garegin II, the supreme head of the church, said ahead of the event that they will attend it as “representatives of a Sister Church.”
A statement released by the office emphasized the fact that the late Pope John Paul was the first Catholic pontiff to pay a “brotherly visit” to Armenia in 2001. It also noted that John Paul recognized the 1915 Armenian genocide in Ottoman Empire during that trip.
Pope Francis similarly called the World War I-era deaths of some 1.5 million Armenians “the first major genocide of the 20th century” at a June 2013 meeting with Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX. The Turkish government condemned the remark as “absolutely unacceptable.”
Francis, who was previously known as Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, had maintained warm relations with leaders of Argentina’s influential Armenian community.
Garegin personally attended Bergoglio’s papal inauguration in March 2013 together with President Serzh Sarkisian. In separate congratulatory messages sent to the new Pope, both men expressed hope that the Vatican’s ties with Armenia will strengthen during his pontificate.