Pope Francis will mark on Sunday the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey with a mass that will be held at the Vatican in the presence of President Serzh Sarkisian and the top clergymen of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
In another gesture to Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora, Francis will also bestow the prestigious Catholic title of “Doctor of the Church” on St. Gregory of Narek, a 10-11th century Armenian cleric renowned for his religious writings.
The pontiff will concelebrate the mass in the Armenian Catholic rite in St. Peter’s Basilica with Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX, the Lebanon-based leader of the Armenian Catholics.
President Sarkisian will attend it at the end of his ongoing visit to Rome. He will be joined there by Catholicos Garegin II and Catholicos Aram I, the supreme heads of the Armenian Apostolic Church.They will be accompanied by over a dozen bishops of the ancient church to which more than 80 percent of Armenians nominally belong.
Mikael Minasian, Armenia’s ambassador to the Vatican, stressed the event’s significance to official Yerevan on Friday. Minasian, who is also Sarkisian’s son-in-law, told the Armenpress news agency on Friday that both Garegin and Aram will deliver speeches at the end of the “unprecedented” liturgy.
It will take place 12 days before official ceremonies in Yerevan that will mark the centenary of the Armenian genocide. Francis is among world leaders invited by Sarkisian to take part in the commemorations. He has announced no plans to visit the Armenian capital on the occasion.
The Turkish government has reportedly been pressuring Francis not to describe the 1915 slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians as genocide.
The pontiff avoided using the politically sensitive word on Thursday when he met with Armenian Catholic clerics and faithful at the Vatican. He said the events of 1915 involved men “who were capable of systematically planning the annihilation of their brothers.”
“Let us invoke divine mercy so that for the love of truth and justice, we can heal every wound and bring about concrete gestures of peace and reconciliation between two nations that are still unable to come to a reasonable consensus on this sad event,” he said, according to the Associate Press news agency.
Francis angered Ankara in 2013 when he publicly referred to the mass killings and deportations of Armenians as “the first genocide of the 20th century.” He called on the Turkish state to recognize the genocide in 2006 when he was known as Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires.
Both Sarkisian and Garegin attended Bergoglio’s papal inauguration earlier in 2013, highlighting growing ties between the Catholic and Armenian churches. The Armenian president again visited the Vatican in 2014.
Pope John Paul II 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.
Francis on Thursday paid tribute to the long history of Christianity in Armenia, the first country to adopt it as a state religion in 301.