February 20, 2001
volume 12, no. 51

Pope Presides at Armenian Liturgy in St. Peter's

Papal Letter Marks Armenian Anniversary

    VATICAN, Feb. 19, 01 (CWNews.com) -- On February 18, as he presided at the Divine Liturgy, celebrated according to the Armenian rite, Pope John Paul II said that he is "anxiously waiting for the day when I can finally kiss the soil of Armenia, marked by the blood of so many martyrs."

    Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX, the head of the Armenian Catholic Church, was the principal celebrant for the liturgical ceremony in St. Peter's Basilica on Sunday. The ceremony was scheduled to mark the 1700th anniversary of the "baptism" of the Armenian nation.

    Pope John Paul delivered the homily, and said that he expects to visit Armenia soon "if it pleases God." He said he was looking forward to visiting the sites "where men and women offered themselves up in spirit, following the Paschal lamb." He added that he also hoped to see how "today's Armenians are working to rebuild their dignity, stability, and security of life."

    The Pope asked the people of Armenia to pray for their nation, and to invoke the intercession of the martyrs who "paid with their blood" for their faith in Christ during the "sad periods" of persecution that have marked Armenian history.

    The three-hour ceremony in the Armenian rite came at the request of Patriarch Nerses Bedros, who had asked the Pope to preside in a display of communion. The Armenian rite-- which combines aspects of the Syria, Byzantine, and Latin rites-- is common to both the Armenian Catholic and Armenian Apostolic churches. The Sunday ceremony took nearly three hours.

    In an apostolic letter to the Armenian faithful, released on February 17, Pope John Paul II wrote that the faith of that land is based on the blood of its martyrs.

    The Pope's apostolic letter was written to mark the 1700th anniversary of the evangelization of Armenia. After St. Gregory the Illuminator introduced the faith to the nation, Armenia became the first country officially to embrace Christianity.

    In 451, rejecting the Christological pronouncements of the Council of Chalcedon, the Church in Armenia broke with Rome. However, during the 1990s the Armenian Apostolic Church reached agreement with the Holy See on the same Christological issues, paving the road to a restoration of full communion. One of the three patriarchates of the Armenian Church-- the Armenian Catholic Church-- has already restored ties with the Holy See, and has been in full communion since the middle of the 19th century.

    In his letter, the Holy Father pointed to "the most tragic" moments in Armenian history, and particularly the massacres of the 19th and early 20th centuries, "culminating in the tragic events of 1915." It was in 1915 that Turkish forces forcibly relocated the Armenian population, killing at least 1.5 million people in the process and accelerating the Armenian diaspora.

    Today the Armenian Church has three patriarchates: in Etchmiadzine, in current-day Armenia; in Antelias, Lebanon; and in Beirut, Lebanon-- this last being the body in full communion with the Holy See, headed by Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX.

    The memory of the genocide in 1915 "cannot be forgotten," Pope John Paul writes. The consequences of that tragedy are visible today in the Armenian diaspora, he continues. But the martyrdom suffered by the Armenian people is also a testimony to their courage, he notes. And today Armenia is "a rich treasure for the Church."

    The Pope encouraged Armenians-- wherever they live today-- to be peacemakers in the modern world. He urged them to recognize the ties between their culture and their Christian faith. And he emphatically called upon members of both the Catholic and Armenian Apostolic churches to work for a restoration of unity.

February 20, 2001
volume 12, no. 51
News from ROME
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