VATICAN CITY, MAY 7, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI beseeched the faithful to pray for the visit to Rome of the patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, attended the Pope’s general audience today, and both leaders exchanged formal greetings.
The Holy Father told the patriarch, “Your Holiness, I pray that the light of the Holy Spirit will illumine your pilgrimage to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, the important meetings you will have here, and particularly our personal conversations. I ask all who are present today to pray for God’s blessing upon this visit.”
The Pontiff noted Karekin II’s personal commitment to “the growing friendship between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church.”
He mentioned: “In 2000, soon after your election, you came to Rome to meet Pope John Paul II, and a year later, you graciously received him in Holy Etchmiadzin. You came once again to Rome together with many Church leaders from East and West, for the funeral liturgy of Pope John Paul II.
“I am sure that this spirit of friendship will be further deepened during the coming days.”
The Armenian Apostolic Church separated from Rome after the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
More than 90% of Armenian Christians are under the Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate. The Pope’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, visited Armenia last March and was received by Karekin II.
In Benedict XVI’s greeting, he also mentioned the suffering of the Armenian people: “In an external niche of St. Peter’s Basilica, there is a fine statue of St. Gregory the Illuminator, founder of the Armenian Church. It serves to remind us of the severe persecutions suffered by Armenian Christians, especially during the last century. Armenia’s many martyrs are a sign of the power of the Holy Spirit working in times of darkness, and a pledge of hope for Christians everywhere.
“Your Holiness, dear bishops and dear friends, together with you I implore Almighty God, through the intercession of St. Gregory the Illuminator, to help us grow in unity, in one holy bond of Christian faith, hope and love.”
The two Churches have moved closer to unity, notably thanks to a 1996 declaration signed by John Paul II and Patriarch Karekin I on the nature of Jesus.
For his part, Karekin II affirmed — leading up to Sunday’s feast of Pentecost — that it is the Holy Spirit who is “the fountainhead of unity and transforms our steps on the paths of brotherhood with grace — steps which are for the glory of God and are born from the love of Christ, for the sake of establishing peace in the world and a blessed life for mankind.”
“Intolerance and confrontation must not be allowed within the brotherhood and love of Christ,” the patriarch said. “Mankind has suffered much as a result. Today as well, the creation of God — the world that surrounds us — is imperiled through interfaith disagreements, through wars and terrorism, through the effects of poverty and neglect.
“Our brothers and sisters are in distress in the Middle East and many other regions of the world; where women and children, the elderly and disabled are endangered by the blows of disagreement and division, unjust competition and enmity. This is not the will of God. This is not our calling.”
Karekin II mentioned as well the struggle in Armenia to gain international recognition of their suffering at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. Both religious and civil leaders in Armenia want the massacre to be recognized as a genocide. In 1915 and the following years, perhaps as many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed within the empire as it broke apart. Turkey and other states oppose the use of the word genocide to describe the event.
“Today, many countries of the world recognize and condemn the genocide committed against the Armenian people by Ottoman Turkey, as did the Holy See, by His Holiness Pope John Paul Il of blessed memory during our fraternal visit to Rome in 2000,” the patriarch said.
He added: “Offering prayers to his luminous memory, we as Pontiff of the Armenians, appeal to all nations and lands to universally condemn all genocides that have occurred throughout history and those that continue through the present day, so that those who yield power and authority realize their responsibilities and results of those crimes which have been and continue to be committed against the creation of God, and that the denial of these crimes is an injustice that equals the commission of the same.”
This afternoon, the Catholicos received an honorary doctorate in the theology of pastoral care of youth from the Pontifical Salesian University. He was accompanied during the ceremony by Cardinal Bertone and Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
Cardinal Bertone recalled his March visit to Armenia. He said he experienced “an exquisite and warm welcome” and was able to “submerge [him]self in the history of the Church.”
“Armenia,” he explained, “has its roots sunk in the preaching of the holy Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus. The entire Armenian people converted to Christ more than 17 centuries ago, at the dawn of the fourth century, in the year 301. Baptism makes of the Armenians the first people to be officially Christian, much before Christianity was recognized as the official religion of the Roman empire.”
Cardinal Kasper pronounced the “laudatio,” recognizing Karekin II’s extensive work in the pastoral ministry of youth.
“Immediately after the fall of communism, he arranged for the former Communist Pioneer Palaces to be converted into church-sponsored youth centers,” the cardinal said. Shortly thereafter, in 1990, “he created a Christian Education Center […] where young people receive a catechetical and Christian formation, together with a program in traditional Armenian art and culture.”
“His Holiness Karekin II has continued to follow with care the preparation and post-ordination training of his clergy,” cardinal Kasper added, noting how the patriarch has sent many students for further studies abroad, often to Catholic universities or faculties of theology.