Pope Francis paid tribute to Armenia’s Christian heritage on Wednesday ahead of a landmark visit to the country which he said will further deepen ties between the Roman Catholic and Armenian Apostolic Churches.
“I come as a pilgrim, in this Jubilee Year, to draw on the ancient wisdom of your people and to steep myself the sources of your faith, which is steadfast as your famous crosses carved in stone,” Francis said in a video address to Armenians translated to English by Vatican Radio.
“I come to the mystical heights of Armenia as your brother, animated by the desire to see your faces, to pray with you and to share the gift of friendship,” he said.
“Your history and the events of your beloved people stir in me admiration and sorrow: admiration, for you have found in Jesus’ Cross and in your own wits, the wherewithal ever to pick yourselves up and start anew – even after sufferings that are among the most terrible in human memory; pain, for the tragedies that your fathers have lived in their flesh,” added the pontiff.
Francis is due to arrive in Armenia on Friday at the invitation of President Serzh Sarkisian and Catholicos Garegin (Karekin) II, the supreme head of the state-backed Armenian Apostolic Church. Sarkisian and Garegin extended the invitations during separate visits to the Vatican in 2014. They both have sought closer relations with the Holy See.
“I look forward to embracing my Brother, Garegin, and, along with him, to give fresh impetus to our path towards full unity,” Francis said, alluding to those relations.
The pontiff also said that he will bring a message of “peace” and “share our steps on the pathway of reconciliation,” an apparent reference to Armenia’s bitter disputes with neighboring Azerbaijan and Turkey.