Pope´s Address at Wednesday General Audience

John Paul II Recalls Trip to Kazakhstan and Armenia

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 3, 2001 (Zenit.org).- At his midweek general audience, John Paul II spoke about his recent pastoral trip to Kazakhstan and Armenia. Here is a translation of the address, which was given in Italian.

* * *

Dearest Brothers and Sisters!

1. I am grateful to the Lord who enabled me to complete happily in past days the apostolic trip to Kazakhstan and Armenia. It was an experience that has left vivid impressions and emotions in my heart.

It was a visit of a double nature. In Kazakhstan, it was a pastoral visit to the Catholic community, which lives in a country whose population is primarily Muslim, having emerged some 10 years ago from the harsh and oppressive Soviet regime. I went to Armenia as a pilgrim to render homage to a Church of very ancient origin: in fact, the Armenian people are celebrating 1,700 years since they became Christian officially. And they have maintained this identity until today, at the cost of martyrdom.

I renew my expressions of gratitude to the presidents of the republic of Kazakhstan and Armenia who, with their invitation, opened the doors of their noble countries to me. I am grateful to them for the courtesy and warmth with which they welcomed me.

In gratitude and affection I address the bishops and apostolic administrators, priests and Catholic communities. My most sincere thanks go to all those who collaborated toward the good outcome of this apostolic pilgrimage, so longed for by me and prepared for at length in prayer.

2. The topic of the pastoral visit to Kazakhstan was the commandment of Christ: «Love one another.» It was especially significant to carry this message to that country in which over 100 different ethnic groups coexist and collaborate among themselves to build a better future. The city of Astana itself, where my visit took place, became the capital less than four years ago, and is the symbol of the country´s reconstruction.

In my meetings with the authorities and the people, I clearly saw the will to overcome the harsh past, marked by the suppression of the dignity and rights of the human person. Indeed, who can forget that hundreds of thousands of people were deported to Kazakhstan? Who cannot but remember that its steppes were used to test nuclear arms? Because of this, no sooner had I arrived, I wanted to visit the monument to the victims of the totalitarian regime, in order to underline the perspective from which matters should be viewed henceforth. Kazakhstan, a multiethnic society, has rejected atomic armaments and is intent on building a solid and peaceful society. This need is symbolically recalled in the monument to the «Motherland,» which was the background for the Holy Mass on Sunday, Sept. 23.

Thanks be to God, the Church is being reborn, sustained also by a new territorial organization. I wished to come close to that community and its pastors, committed to a generous and arduous missionary work. With heartfelt emotion I rendered homage, together with them, to the memory of all those who sacrificed their life in hardships and persecutions to take Christ to the local populations.

In the cathedral of Astana, with the bishops of the Central Asian countries, with priests, religious, seminarians and faithful who also came from neighboring states, I entrusted Kazakhstan to Mary Most Holy, Queen of Peace, the title under which she is venerated in the national shrine.

3. «Love one another!» These words of Christ, in the first place, challenge Christians. I addressed them first to the Catholics, exhorting them to communion among themselves and with their Orthodox brothers, who are more numerous. Moreover, I encouraged them to collaborate with the Muslims to foster the authentic progress of society. From that country, in which followers of different religions coexist peacefully, I forcefully reaffirmed that religion must never be used as a reason for conflict. Christians and Muslims, together with believers of every religion, are called to repudiate violence firmly, to build a humanity that loves life, that develops in justice and solidarity.

I gave a message of hope to Kazakh youth, reminding them that God loves them personally. With great joy I was aware of the strong and vibrant echo that this fundamental truth produced in their hearts. The meeting with them took place at the university, an environment always dear to me, where the culture of a people develops. It was precisely with the representatives from the world of culture, art and science that I had the opportunity to recall the religious foundation of human liberty, and of the reciprocity between faith and reason, exhorting them to safeguard the spiritual values of Kazakhstan.

4. Having left this great Central Asian country, I arrived in Armenia as a pilgrim, to render homage to a people that for 17 centuries has linked its history to Christianity. For the first time, a Bishop of Rome has stepped on that dear soil, evangelized, according to tradition, by the Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus, and becoming officially Christian in 301 thanks to St. Gregory the Illuminator.

The cathedral of Etchmiadzin, apostolic see of the Armenian Church, dates back to 303. I went there, upon my arrival and before my departure, according to the custom of pilgrims. I was in prayer before the tombs of the Catholicos of All Armenians, among whom are Vazken I and Karekin I, authors of the present cordial relations between the Armenian and Catholic Churches. In the name of this fraternal friendship, with exquisite courtesy, His Holiness Karekin II wished to welcome me in his residence, and accompanied me in every moment of the pilgrimage.

5. Throughout their long history, the Armenian people have paid a high price for fidelity to their own identity. Suffice it to think of the tremendous mass extermination suffered at the beginning of the 20th century. To the everlasting memory of the victims — close to 1.5 million in three years — a solemn memorial has been erected near Yerevan, the capital, where, together with the Catholicos of All Armenians, we prayed intensely for all the dead and for peace in the world.

In the new apostolic cathedral of Yerevan, dedicated to St. Gregory the Illuminator and just consecrated, a solemn ecumenical celebration took place, with the veneration of the saint´s relic, which I gave to Karekin II last year, on the occasion of his visit to Rome. This sacred rite, together with the Joint Declaration, placed a significant seal on the bond of charity that unites the Catholic and Armenian Churches. In a world lacerated by conflicts and violence, it is more necessary than ever that Christians be witnesses of unity and authors of reconciliation and peace.

The Holy Mass at the new open air «great altar,» in the garden of the apostolic see of Etchmiadzin, although following the Latin rite, was celebrated «with two lungs,» with readings, prayers and hymns in the Armenian tongue and with the presence of the Catholicos of All Armenians. I have no words to express the profound joy of those moments, in which one was aware of the spiritual presence of so many martyrs and confessors of the faith, who gave witness to the Gospel with their life. Their memory will be honored forever: We must obey Christ, who asks his disciples to be one, with complete docility.

The last object of my apostolic trip was the Monastery of Khor Virap, which means «deep well.» There, in fact, according to tradition, is the 40-meter well in which King Tiridate III held St. Gregory the Illuminator a prisoner, because of his faith in Christ, until the saint, with his prayers, obtained a miraculous cure for him, and the king was converted and had himself baptized along with his family and all the people. There, as a symbol of the faith with which Gregory illuminated the Armenians, I was handed a torch, which I solemnly placed in the new chapel, inaugurated in the auditorium of the Synod of Bishops. That light has been burning for 1
7 centuries! It has been burning in the world for 2,000 years. Dearest brothers and sisters, we Christians are asked not to hide it, but to fuel it, so that it will direct the ways of humanity on the paths of truth, love and peace!

[Translation by ZENIT]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation