Pope Francis has described as a Christian pilgrimage his upcoming visit to Armenia which is expected to further boost the country’s political and religious ties with the Roman Catholic Church.
“I ask you to pray for me, who in a few days will go as a pilgrim to an eastern land, Armenia, the first among the nations to receive the Gospel of Jesus,” the Italian ANSA news agency quoted him as telling participants of the Reunion of Aid Agencies For the Eastern Churches on Thursday.
Francis is scheduled to arrive in Armenia on June 24. He will meet with President Serzh Sarkisian, attend joint religious services with the top clergymen of the Armenian Apostolic Church and hold an open-air mass for Armenia’s Catholic community.
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Oriental Churches, said earlier this week that the three-day visit will be a “gesture of affection and admiration” for Armenia’s Christian heritage.
“It is an act of devotion towards this country, the first to adopt Christianity in 301 when St. Gregory the Illuminator led the entire nation to conversion and baptism,” Sandri told Italy’s “La Stampa” daily in an interview.
“The Pope will bring his gratitude and esteem for a people who were molded by the Christian spirit and managed to protect the precious treasure of faith and their own identity for centuries,” he said. “This is the spiritual power upon which Armenia can build a future of peace and hope.”
Sandri described the Vatican’s relationship with the Armenian Apostolic Church as “very fraternal and particularly friendly.” He also praised the church’s tolerant attitudes towards Armenia’s Catholic minority concentrated in the northwestern Shirak province.
Sandri inaugurated a new Armenian Catholic church in the provincial capital Gyumri last September. President Serzh Sarkisian was also present at the ceremony, underscoring the Armenian government’s warm rapport with the Vatican.
Francis is due to visit the Gyumri church after holding a Catholic mass in the town’s central square.