Papal Visit to Armenia to Coincide with 1,700 Years of Christianity

First Country in History To Be Officially Proclaimed Christian

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BEIRUT, JAN. 10, 2001 ( One thousand seven hundred years have passed since Armenia embraced Christianity officially, becoming the first country in history to take this step.

This is a very important anniversary, which Nerses Bedros XIX, Patriarch of Catholic Armenians, celebrated with greetings from the Patriarchal See of Bzmmar in Lebanon, to all Armenians residing in their homeland or spread around the world because of the diaspora.

The text written by Patriarch Nerses, refers to that Gospel that was welcomed 17 centuries ago by his people, discovering in it the «Way» for the people, the «Truth» that has remained intact, and the «Life,» which has been transmitted through generations over all these years.

According to the Patriarch, the Jubilee of the Armenian people, which began on January 1, «must not just be a date for self-glorification or complacency for having been the first nation to embrace Christianity as the State religion.» On the contrary, the Armenian leader hopes that it will be the motive for all Armenia´s Christians to undergo profound interior renewal in their spiritual and daily life.

Bishop Vartan Boghossian, Apostolic Exarch for Armenian faithful in Latin America, wrote a letter to the faithful of his Eparchy announcing that John Paul II «will publish a document in memory of this historic event, because Armenia was officially, in fact, the first Christian country.»

The Vatican City State is also preparing a series of commemorative medals. Moreover, in the presence of John Paul II, a ceremony will be held on February 18 in the Vatican Basilica with Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX.

The highlight of the Catholic celebrations should be the Pope´s visit to Armenia, which was announced before the Catholic Christmas by Karekin II, head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. However, this news is yet to be confirmed by the Vatican.

In A.D. 301, the kingdom of Armenia became the first state to adopt Christianity as a state religion, a decade before Constantine extended Christianity to the Roman Empire. Today, after 70 years of Communist rule, many Armenians have lost touch with their religion. Karekin II hopes that this event will serve to return religion to the day-to-day life of Armenians, according to Radio FreeEurope/Radio Liberty.

Under the previous Catholicos, Karekin I, the Armenian Apostolic Church reached a joint Christological statement with the Catholic Church. As a result, the primacy of the Pope is the primary obstacle to reestablishing union with this ancient Church, which became separated from Rome during the debates over monophysitism, which culminated in the rejection of the Council of Chalcedon by this Oriental Orthodox Church in 501.

John Paul II had scheduled a visit to Armenia for July of 1999, but the ultimately terminal illness of the Catholicos, whom he had met in Rome twice before, made that trip impossible. He met in Rome with Karekin II on November 9 of last year, resulting in another joint Christological statement. In that meeting, the possibility of a vist to Armenia for John Paul II was left open, and afterwards Karekin indicated that the visit would indeed take place.

«Together we confess our faith in the Triune God and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, who became man for our salvation,» reads the statement. «We also believe in One, Catholic, Apostolic and Holy Church. The Church, as the Body of Christ, indeed, is one and unique. This is our common faith, based on the teachings of the Apostles and the Fathers of the Church. We acknowledge furthermore that both the Catholic Church and the Armenian Church have true sacraments, above all — by apostolic succession of bishops — the priesthood and the Eucharist. We continue to pray for full and visible communion between us. The liturgical celebration we preside over together, the sign of peace we exchange and the blessing we give together in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, testify that we are brothers in the episcopacy. Together we are jointly responsible for what is our common mission: to teach the apostolic faith and to witness to the love of Christ for all human beings, especially those living in difficult circumstances.»

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