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Friday, 9 May 2014


The references to martyrdom are in part diplomatic. They are to the mass persecution of ethnic and racial minorities in the dying years of the Ottoman Empire, of whom by far the largest numbers to be killed were Armenians. Others targeted were Greeks (ie both Greek speaking and Turkish speaking Orthodox of the Ecumenical Patriarchate), Syriac Orthodox and Kurdish Muslims. Because of the range of those killed and driven out of the Empire, modern Turkey has always denied what the Armenians, supported by a large part of the international community, have called it: a genocide of Armenians. It is hardly a strong defence from Turkey to say that it was not a genocide because other ethnic groups and Muslim people as well as Christians were targeted. Modern Turkey points out that, in any case, it is a secular republic which guarantees rights and liberty for all its citizens and that these events, which it increasingly acknowledges took place and were illegal and criminal, were perpetrated by the Ottoman regime which it overthrew.

Evidently, however, there still needs to be a healing of memories and this will take time before reconciliation can be achieved. In the meantime, without entering into the terms of a hotly contested aspect of modern history, Pope Francis acknowledges the enormity of Armenian suffering in their historic lands, recognises the innocence of those who suffered, and that they were murdered in their hundreds of thousands not only because they were Armenians but also because they were followers of Christ to the end. Thus the Holy Father places the mass murders in the spiritual context of the martyrdoms at which point all those who lay down their lives for Christ - Catholics, Orthodox, Non Chalcedonian Oriental Orthodox and Protestants alike - are united with Christ in his one sacrifice and therefore represent the unity of Christians and the fullness of the Church's communion: a foretaste of the union of Churches that is to come as Christ's express will. See the Seed of the Church website for another look at this theme.

Vatican City, 8 May 2014 (VIS) – “In the person of Your Holiness I extend my respectful and affectionate thoughts to the members of the family of the Catholicate of All Armenians throughout the world. It is a special grace for us to be able to meet in this house, close to the tomb of the Apostle Peter, and to share a moment of fraternity and prayer”.

Pope Francis thus began his greeting to His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, in a meeting that took place this morning. He went on to mention how the links between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Church of Rome have been consolidated during recent years thanks to events such as John Paul II's trip to Armenia in 2001, the presence of the Patriarch in the Vatican on various occasions such as the official visit to Benedict XVI in 2008 and the beginning of Pope Francis' ministry as bishop of Rome in 2013.

“However”, he added, I would like to recall another celebration, rich in meaning, in which Your Holiness took part: the Commemoration of the Witnesses of Faith in the Twentieth Century, which took place within the context of the Great Jubilee of 2000. In truth, the number of disciples who have shed blood for Christ in the tragic events of the last century is certainly higher than that of the martyrs of the first centuries, and the sons of the Armenian nation have a place of honour in this martyrology. The mystery of the Cross, so dear to the memory of your people, represented in the splendid stone crosses that adorn every corner of your land, has been lived by countless sons of yours, directly participating in the chalice of the Passion. Their witness, both tragic and lofty, must not be forgotten”.

“The suffering of Christians during recent decades has also made a unique and inestimable contribution to the cause of unity between Christ's disciples. As in the ancient Church the blood of martyrs became the seed of new Christians, in our days too the blood of many Christians has become the seed of unity. The ecumenism of suffering and martyrdom is a powerful reminder to walk the path of reconciliation between the Churches, decisively and trustfully surrendering ourselves to the action of the Spirit. Let us feel the duty of following this path of fraternity also for the debt of gratitude we have towards the suffering of so many of our brothers, which has become salvific by being united with the passion of Christ”.

In this respect, the Pope thanked Karekin II for his effective support for ecumenical dialogue, and in particular the work of the Joint Commission for theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the oriental Orthodox Churches, and for the significant theological contribution to the Commission offered by the representatives of the Catholicate of All Armenians.

“Let us pray for each other”, concluded the bishop of Rome. “May the Holy Spirit enlighten us and guide us towards longed-for day in which we may share in the Eucharist. And may the All Holy Mother of God intercede for the Armenian population, now and for ever”.

Following the meeting, Pope Francis and His Holiness Karekin prayed together in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel.

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