VATICAN CITY, MAY 11, 2001 ( John Paul II will travel to Armenia on Sept. 25 to participate in celebrations marking the 1,700th anniversary of the proclamation of the first Christian country in history, the Ria Novosti agency said.

The Pope today received in audience Archbishop Peter Stephen Zurbriggen, apostolic nuncio in Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. The Vatican has not confirmed news of the papal trip.

In February the Holy Father himself expressed the wish to visit Armenia.

Most of Armenia´s 3.6 million inhabitants belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church, whose head is Catholicos Karekin II. In 1996 Catholics and Armenians put an end to their 1,500-year-old disputes over theological formulations on Christ.

Relations between the two Churches are now optimal. In 1999, the Pope planned to travel to the capital Yerevan and to the holy city Etchmiadzin. He had to give up his plan when Armenian Apostolic Patriarch Karekin I fell gravely ill. Karekin I died shortly after.

Last November at the Vatican, Karekin II, his successor, was quick to invite the Bishop of Rome to visit Armenia.

According to an ancient tradition, Christianity penetrated Armenia directly through the work of the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew. In 301, St. Gregory converted the king and baptized him together with the entire royal court.