The Armenian Apostolic Church considers Pope Francis a “friend” of Armenia and expects tens of thousands of people to greet him during his upcoming visit to the country, a senior clergyman said on Wednesday.
“We will receive the head of the Roman Catholic Church and a good friend of our Church and our people with open arms and hearts,” the Reverend Zakaria Baghumian, a spokesman for the church’s Council of Bishops, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Francis is scheduled to arrive in Armenia on Friday on a three-day visit that will involve meetings with President Serzh Sarkisian and joint religious ceremonies with high-ranking Armenian clerics led by Catholicos Garegin II. Those include an ecumenical prayer service to be held at Yerevan’s central Republic Square on Saturday evening.
Baghumian said that least 50,000 people, most of them adherents of the Armenian Apostolic Church, are expected to fill the sprawling square on the occasion. “For our church and people, this will be an important moment: the head of the biggest Christian church will jointly pray for peace in the world together with the head of our church,” he said.
On June 15, the Armenian Apostolic Church called on its followers to gather at its main cathedral in Echmiadzin to greet Francis at a welcoming religious ceremony to be held there shortly after his arrival at the Yerevan airport.
Also last week, the pontiff described his forthcoming visit as a pilgrimage to “the first among the nations to receive the Gospel of Jesus.” The Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, was reported to say on Tuesday that the trip will underscore his “closeness” to the Armenian nation.
Baghumian stressed that the visit will not only reinforce ties between the two churches but also put Armenia in the international spotlight. “It’s very important that the world not only hears about Armenia and its woes but also sees that this Christian island surrounded by less than friendly neighbors is an independent state that has a 2,000-year-old Apostolic Church and is visited by the leader of the biggest Christian denomination,” he said.
Francis’s busy schedule also includes an open-air mass in Gyumri, the administrative center of the northwestern Shirak province where many members of Armenia’ Roman Catholic minority live. The Reverend Hovsep Galstian, a local spokesman for the Armenian Catholic Church, said that as many as 25,000 people are expected to attend the liturgy in Gyumri’s central square on Saturday morning. Some 3,000 of them will arrive from abroad, he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
In recent days, scores of people have lined up outside the Catholic Church headquarters in Gyumri to receive written invitations needed for entering the square during the mass. “The Pope’s visit to Gyumri is a great move that will benefit our people in the historical and religious senses,” one of them said on Wednesday.