Pope Francis will visit an Armenian genocide memorial, attend an ecumenical service in Yerevan’s central square and hold an open-air mass in Gyumri during his upcoming trip to Armenia, it was announced on Friday.
The three-day visit scheduled for June 24-26 will underscore growing links between the Roman Catholic and Armenian Apostolic Churches.
According to an official itinerary, Francis will head to the Echmiadzin headquarters of Catholicos Garegin (Karekin) II, the supreme head of the Armenian Church, on his arrival in the country. He will meet with Sarkisian after a welcoming ceremony to be held at the Armenian cathedral in Echmiadzin.
“On the morning of June 25, His Holiness Pope Francis will visit Tsitsernakaberd, the Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex and Museum in Yerevan,” read the itinerary separately released by Sarkisian’s and Garegin’s offices.
Francis will thus again pay tribute to some 1.5 million Armenians that were massacred and starved to death by the Ottoman Turks during the First World War. He described the massacres as “the first genocide of the 20th century” during an April 2015 mass at the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the tragedy.
Turkey accused the pontiff of distorting history and recalled its ambassador to the Vatican in protest. Armenia denounced the furious Turkish reaction.
The late Pope John Paul II prayed at Tsitsernakabert and recognized the Armenian genocide in a joint declaration with Garegin that was adopted during his historic 2001 visit to Armenia. Francis is also due to issue a joint declaration with Garegin.
Another highlight of the trip will be a Catholic mass which the pontiff will hold at Gyumri’s central square on June 25. Armenia is home to tens of thousands of Catholics following traditional Armenian religious rites. They are concentrated in the northwestern Shirak province, of which Gyumri is the capital.
Thousands of other Armenian Catholics live in Georgia’s Javakheti province bordering Shirak.
A visiting Vatican cardinal inaugurated a newly constructed Armenian Catholic church there last year at a ceremony attended by President Sarkisian. Francis is scheduled to visit the Church Of Holy Martyrs as wells as Gyumri’s Armenian Apostolic cathedral after the liturgy.
Later on June 25, Francis and Garegin will lead an ecumenical service in Yerevan’s central Republic Square.