By Emil Danielyan
Pope John Paul II, on the final third day of his visit to Armenia, paid tribute Thursday to the country’s small Catholic community at an open-air mass in Echmiadzin, the seat of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The Pope praised Armenian Catholics for preserving their faith despite decades of Soviet oppression.
Several thousand of them, waving the Armenian and Vatican flags, attended the two-hour service held under the Latin rite but to the accompaniment of Armenian Apostolic hymns. Most Catholics live in rural areas in northern Armenia.
“For many years the voice of the priest fell silent in your churches, but still the voice of the people’s faith was heard, full of devotion and filial affection for the Successor of the Apostle Peter,” the frail pontiff said in a homily read out by an Armenian Catholic priest. “Dear Catholic brothers and sisters, you are rightly proud of this ancient land of your ancestors, and you too are heirs to its history and culture.”
The Pope went on to urge his faithful to make “new sacrifices” to build their economically struggling country. He said: “As Armenians, with the same rights and duties as all Armenians, you are helping to rebuild the nation. I am certain that in this momentous task our brothers and sisters of the Armenian Apostolic Church look upon the members of the Catholic community as children of the same mother, the blessed land of Armenia.”
The Pope paid a visit to an Armenian Catholic center in Yerevan later in the day.