Concelebrating Mass this morning with the recently elected patriarch of the Armenian Catholic Church, Pope Francis said that persecution is the “Christian fate” since we follow the path of Jesus, but lamented that the cooperation of world powers is what makes this persecution occur.
The Pope said this today as he celebrated Mass in his residence at the Casa Santa Marta, Vatican Radio reported. The Mass was celebrated with His Beatitude Gregory Peter XX Ghabroyan, as well as with the Bishops of the Synod of the Apostolic Armenian Catholic Church and the Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri.
Gregory Peter XX Ghabroyan was pulled out of retirement to be elected Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians on July 24. He heads the 1 million-strong Armenian Catholic Church, an Eastern Catholic Church in full communion with the Pope.
Pope Francis spoke of the ongoing Christian persecution, recognizing that today, “Perhaps more than in the early days, [Christians] are persecuted, killed, driven out, despoiled, only because they are Christians.”
“Dear brothers and sisters, there is no Christianity without persecution,” he said. “Remember the last of the Beatitudes: when they bring you into the synagogues, and persecute you, revile you, this is the fate of a Christian. Today too, this happens before the whole world, with the complicit silence of many powerful leaders who could stop it. We are facing this Christian fate: go on the same path of Jesus.”
The persecution of the Armenians was one of many great persecutions, the Pope continued.
“The first nation to convert to Christianity: the first. They were persecuted just for being Christians,” he said. “The Armenian people were persecuted, chased away from their homeland, helpless, in the desert.”
What people did to Jesus,” he reflected, “has, during the course of history, been done to His body, which is the Church.”
“Today,” the Holy Father continued, “I would like, on this day of our first Eucharist as brother Bishops, dear brother Bishops and Patriarch and all of you Armenian faithful and priests, to embrace you and remember this persecution that you have suffered, and to remember your holy ones, your many saints who died of hunger, in the cold, under torture, [cast] into the wilderness only for being Christians.”
Vocation to martyrdom
Pope Francis went on to speak of today’s persecutions, of the “horror of what some terrorist groups do, who slit the throats of people just because [their victims] are Christians. We think of the Egyptian martyrs, recently, on the Libyan coast, who were slaughtered while pronouncing the name of Jesus.”
The Holy Father prayed that the Lord might “give us a full understanding, to know the Mystery of God who is in Christ,” and who, “carries the Cross, the Cross of persecution, the Cross of hatred, the Cross of that, which comes from the anger,” of persecutors – an anger that is stirred up by “the Father of Evil.”
“May the Lord, today, make us feel within the Body of the Church, the love for our martyrs and also our vocation to martyrdom. We do not know what will happen here, we do not know. Only may the Lord give us the grace, should this persecution happen here one day, of the courage and the witness that all Christian martyrs have shown, and especially the Christians of the Armenian people.”
A statement from the Armenian Patriarchate described the scene during the Liturgy: “[At the Rite of Communion], the Holy Father … elevates the paten with the Body of Christ and offers it to the Patriarch. The two hold the Host high with their four hands. The Holy Father then raises the chalice with the Blood of Christ, offers it to the Patriarch, and they with their four hands keep it elevated. After a moment of silence, the Holy Father offers the Body of Christ, and together they communicate. The Holy Father takes the Blood of Christ from the chalice, then offers it to the Patriarch.”
“‘Communion’ is a concept held in great honor in the early Church and also today,” the statement explains. “[I]t does not mean some vague sentiment, but an organic reality, which requires a legal form and that is at the same time animated by charity.”
The statement goes on to say, “The Ecclesiastica communio, which the Holy Father Francis granted to His Beatitude Gregory Peter XX with [his] Letter of July 25, now finds expression in the exchange of the Sacred Species, which confirms the Eucharistic communion between the Bishop and the Church of Rome, who presides in charity, and the Patriarchal Church of Cilicia of the Armenians, through its Pater et Caput.”