Pope Francis I paid tribute to the long history of Christianity in Armenia and praised increased links between the Roman Catholic and Armenian Apostolic Churches as he met with Catholicos Garegin II in the Vatican on Thursday.
“With you, I praise the Lord, because in recent years relations between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Church of Rome have been strengthened, thanks to the events which are so dear to our memory,” the pontiff told Garegin. He pointed to the newly canonized Pope John Paul II’s historic 2001 visit to Armenia and Garegin’s repeated trips to the Vatican in recent years.
John Paul and the previous supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Garegin I, laid the groundwork for the closer ties in 1996 with a joint declaration that put an end to centuries-old theological disputes between the two Christian denominations.
“In truth, the number of disciples who shed their blood for Christ during the tragic events of the last century is certainly greater than that of the martyrs of the first centuries, and in this martyrology the children of the Armenian nation have a place of honor,” Francis said in remarks reported by the Holy See.
“The mystery of the Cross, precious to the memory of your people and depicted in the splendid stone crosses which adorn every corner of your land, has been lived as a direct participation in the chalice of the Passion by so many of your people. Their witness, at once tragic and great, must not be forgotten.”
“May the all-holy Mother of God intercede for the Armenian people now and always,” he added after citing a verse from Saint Gregory of Narek, a 10th century Armenian poet and theologian.
Garegin, for his part, said relations between the two churches have “historical roots” and should be strengthened further. He also lavished praise on Francis’s “brave” leadership, saying that it is making a “great contribution to the strengthening of Christian faith and moral-spiritual values, protection of human rights and establishment of peace and solidarity around the world.”
Garegin went on to invite the pontiff to visit Armenia next year during the official commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Empire.
Francis called on Turkey to recognize the genocide in 2006 when he was known Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires. He similarly called the 1915 deaths of some 1.5 million Armenians “the first 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.”