Cardinal Bertone Departs for Armenia

Trip Postponed Amid Declared State of Emergency

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 4, 2008 ( Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone left today for Armenia, two days after the Vatican announced his visit would be postponed due to unrest in the country.

A communiqué of the Vatican press office confirmed today that the Pope’s secretary of state began the visit “with some changes to the program.”

“As previously announced, his scheduled visit to Azerbaijan is confirmed,” added the note.

Cardinal Bertone planned to leave for Armenia on Sunday, and stay through Thursday, when he would head to neighboring Azerbaijan until March 9. But post-election clashes between protesters and police in Armenia on Saturday resulted in eight deaths. The Armenian government declared a 20-day state of emergency, forbidding even small groups to gather in the nation’s capital.

A note from the Vatican press office stated, “The visit, which has not yet been canceled, could take place in the next several days, with a changed schedule.”

Protesters in the former Soviet state claim that the Feb. 19 presidential elections were rigged. They contested the victory of Serzh Sarksyan, who is current President Robert Kocharian’s prime minister and ally.

In Azerbaijain on Thursday, Cardinal Bertone is scheduled to meet with the head of the Muslim leaders and other religious officials. He will express to them the Church’s desire to cooperate in the common commitment to peace, concord among peoples and the good of the human family.

The cardinal will be present at the inauguration of a new Catholic church In Azerbaijian’s capital built on land donated to Pope John Paul II by President Heydar Aliyev, father of the nation’s current head of state.

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