President Serzh Sarkisian on Friday met with Pope Francis I and invited him to visit Armenia next year during an official trip to the Vatican that highlighted increased links between the Roman Catholic and Armenian Apostolic Churches.
Sarkisian also held separate talks with the Vatican’s Secretary of State Pietro Parolin and other cardinals representing the Roman Curia, the Catholic Church’s administrative body.
“During the cordial discussions, satisfaction was expressed for the development and strengthening of bilateral relations, highlighting the special role of Christianity in the history and life of Armenian society,” the Holy See said in a communique issued after the meetings.
It said the talks also touched upon “the regional political situation,” an apparent reference to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and violence in the Middle East. “Special attention was paid to the situation faced by Christian communities and other religious minorities in the area, and to the humanitarian crisis regarding refugees from the affected zones,” read the statement.
A separate statement released by Sarkisian’s office said the two sides praised the “close cooperation” between the two churches. It said Sarkisian also invited Francis to visit Armenia next year.
“The Holy Father was pleased to accept the invitation, assuring that travelling to Armenia is his heartfelt desire,” added the Armenian presidential press office.
The pontiff received a similar invitation from Catholicos Garegin II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, when the two men in the Vatican in May. Garegin specifically invited Francis to attend the April 2015 commemorations in Yerevan of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey.
Francis called on Turkey to recognize the genocide in 2006 when he was known as 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.”
Both Sarkisian and Garegin attended Bergoglio’s papal inauguration in March 2013, highlighting the significance of relations with the Vatican for Yerevan.
“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,” Francis told Garegin in May. He pointed to the late Pope John Paul II’s historic 2001 visit to Armenia.
John Paul and the previous Armenia Church head, Garegin I, laid the groundwork for the rapprochement in 1996 with a joint declaration that put an end to centuries-old theological disputes between the two Christian denominations.