Pope Francis will visit Armenia at the end of June, the Vatican and the Armenian Apostolic Church announced on Saturday.
Citing the press office of the Holy See, Radio Vatican reported that the visit has been scheduled for June 24-26. It said the pontiff will travel to the South Caucasus state at the invitation of Armenia’s government, Apostolic Church and Catholic Armenian minority.
The Echmiazdin headquarters of the Armenian Church confirmed this in a separate statement.
That Francis plans to visit Armenia in June was announced by a Vatican spokesman last month. But he said the exact dates of the trip have not yet been set.
The supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Garegin II, and President Serzh Sarkisian personally invited the pontiff to visit their country in 2014, underlining increased links between the Roman Catholic and Armenian Apostolic Churches. Both men attended his papal inauguration in 2013.
One of Francis’s predecessors, John Paul II, and the previous Armenia Church head, Garegin I, laid the groundwork for the rapprochement in 1996 with a joint declaration that put an end to centuries-old theological disputes between the two Christian denominations.
John Paul went on to become in 2001 the first Catholic Church leader to set foot on Armenian soil. During that historic trip, he issued a joint declaration with Garegin I describing the 1915 Armenian massacres in Ottoman Turkey as genocide.
Francis has publicly reaffirmed the Armenian genocide recognition during his papacy, most recently at an April 2015 mass at the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the tragedy.
Turkey reacted angrily to his reference to “the first genocide of the 20th century,” accusing the pontiff of distorting history and recalling its ambassador to the Vatican in protest. Armenia rejected the Turkish criticism.
A recent global survey conducted by WIN/Gallup International found that Francis is very popular in Armenia, with 75 percent of Armenians having a favorable opinion of him.