A high-ranking envoy of Pope Benedict XVI reportedly called for the strengthening of “brotherly relations” between the Roman Catholic and Armenian Apostolic Churches during a visit to Armenia on Monday.
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Catholic Congregation for Eastern Churches, met with Catholicos Garegin II , the supreme head of the Armenian Church, at his official residence in Echmiadzin. They held talks there before praying together at the main Armenian cathedral also located in the town 20 kilometers south of Yerevan.
“Cardinal Sandri … addressed the Roman Catholic Church’s brotherly relations with the Armenian Church, expressing hope that they will become even closer and deeper,” read a statement issued by Garegin’s press office. It said Sandri, whose congregation oversees Catholic communities in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, passed on Benedict’s “warm greetings” to the top Armenian cleric.
Garegin, for his part, spoke of his “brotherly love” for the pontiff and “particular warmness” between the two “sister churches.” “His Holiness emphasized with satisfaction the importance of the existing productive cooperation between the [Armenian] Mother See and the Vatican in the educational and social spheres,” said the statement. It gave no further details of the meeting.
Sandri is scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian on Tuesday. The cardinal was accompanied by Archbishop Rafael Minasian, the spiritual leader of the Armenian Catholic minorities in Armenia, Georgia and Eastern Europe.
Pope Benedict praised the Catholic Church’s “good relations” with Armenia when he met with President Serzh Sarkisian in the Vatican last December. Both Sarkisian and Garegin invited the pontiff to visit Armenia in 2008. He has yet to respond to the invitation.
Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, visited Armenia in 2001, paying tribute to “the glorious history of Christianity” in a country that was the first to adopt it as a state religion in 301. He also signed a joint declaration with Garegin that referred to the World War One-ear mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as “the first genocide of the 20th century.”
Unlike John Paul, Benedict has refrained from using the word genocide with respect to the deaths of some 1.5 million Armenians. Meeting with Garegin in the Vatican in 2008, he only mentioned the “martyrdom” of the Armenian Church.