On June 24-26, 2016, His Holiness Pope Francis, made an apostolic journey to the First Christian Nation – Armenia. His Holiness called the journey a pilgrimage highlighting the spiritual dimension of the trip to the Land of Ararat.
Upon an invitation from His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, on the occasion of His Holiness Pope Francis’ visit, a delegation from Canada – His Grace Bishop Abgar Hovakimyan, Primate of the Armenian Holy Apostolic Church Diocese of Canada, accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Ohan and Anita Ohanessian, and Mr. and Mrs. Ardene and Christine Dervishian, travelled to the Motherland Armenia to partake in the official events.
Pope Francis was welcomed at “Zvartnots” International Airport of Yerevan by Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians; His Excellency Mr. Serzh Sarkisyan, President of the Republic of Armenia and First Lady Mrs. Rita Sarkisyan; State Officials and Bishops of the Catholic and Armenian Apostolic Churches.
(click here to watch the video of the welcome ceremony)
His Holiness Pope Francis and His Holiness Karekin II, then travelled to the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, where Saint Gregory the Illuminator in a vision saw the Only Begotten Son of God descend, to pray together in the spiritual center of All Armenians. (Click here to watch the video of the visit of prayer to Etchmiadzin)
Pope Francis paid a courtesy visit to the President of Armenia followed by meet Civil Authorities and Diplomatic Corps at the Presidential Palace. In his speech Pope Francis referred to the Armenian genocide, saying: “sadly, that tragedy, that genocide, was the first of the deplorable series of catastrophes of the past century, made possible by twisted racial, ideological or religious aims that darkened the minds of the tormentors even to the point of planning the annihilation of entire peoples. It is so sad that – in this as in the others two – the great powers looked the other way.” (click here to watch the video of the visit to the President and meeting with authorities)
At the end of the first day of the apostolic journey, Pope Francis held a private meeting with the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians at the Apostolic Palace in Etchmiadzin.
On Saturday morning, June 25, 2016, Pope Francis, Catholicos of All Armenians, and President of Armenia, paid a visit to “Tzitzernakabert” Memorial of the Armenian Genocide, where His Holiness laid a wreath, prayed with the Catholic and Armenian Bishops, planted a pine tree in the Memory Alley of the Armenian Genocide and met descendants of the orphans-survivors of the Armenian Genocide, who found refuge at the Castel Gandolfo Papal Palace at the decision of Pope Benedict 15 and Pius XI. At the conclusion, His Holiness wrote in the Book of Honorable Guests of the Genocide Museum, which reads: “Here, I pray with sorrow in my heart so that a tragedy like this never again occurs, so that humanity will never forget and will know how to defeat evil with good. May God endow peace and consolation to the beloved Armenian people and to the whole world. May God protect the memory of the Armenian people. Memory should never be diluted or forgotten. Memory is the source of peace and the future.” (Click here to watch the video of the visit to the Tzitzernakaberd Memorial Complex)
After the visit, His Holiness Pope Francis and His Holiness Karekin II, travelled to Gyumri, the second largest city in Armenia, where Pope Francis celebrated Holy Mass in “Vartanants” Square. They visited the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral of the Seven Wounds and the Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Martyrs.
(Click here to watch the video of the Holy Mass in Vartanants Square)
On Saturday evening, an Ecumenical Meeting and Prayer for Peace took place in Republic Square in Yerevan, presided over by His Holiness Karekin II and His Holiness Pope Francis. Pope Francis expressed the idea that it was a grace to find himself on these heights where, beneath the gaze of Mount Ararat, the very silence seems to speak. And where the “khatchkar” – the stone crosses – recount a singular history bound up with rugged faith and immense suffering. A history, he went on to say, replete with magnificent testimonies to the Gospel, to which you the Armenian people are heirs. At the conclusion, in a symbolic gesture, Pope Francis and the Catholicos of all Armenians Karekin II watered the seedlings of a vine in a model of Noah’s Ark symbolizing Armenia’s many Christians living in the diaspora so that they may bear fruit, signifying new life. (Click here to watch the video of the Ecumenical encounter and Prayer for Peace)
On the morning of the last day of the Pope Francis’ apostolic visit to Armenia, His Holiness met with the Armenian Catholic Bishops at the Apostolic Palace in Etchmiadzin.
After the meeting, Pope Francis participated in the Divine Liturgy celebrated by the Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II. The Liturgy was attended by Mr. Serzh Sarkisyan, President of the Republic of Armenia and First Lady Mrs. Rita Sarkisyan; Mr. Galust Sahakyan, RA National Assembly President; Mr. Hovik Abrahamyan, RA Prime Minister; Diocesan Primates of the Armenian Apostolic Church; Supreme Spiritual Council members; benefactors of Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin; delegates from dioceses around the world; social and cultural figures; representatives of the diplomatic missions and international organizations and numerous pilgrims from Armenia and Diaspora. In a discourse at the conclusion of the celebration, Pope Francis spoke of his “already unforgettable” visit and prayed that the two Churches “follow God’s call to full communion and hasten to it.” Citing Saints Bartholomew and Thaddeus “who first proclaimed the Gospel in these lands” and “Saints Peter and Paul who gave their lives for the Lord in Rome,” Pope Francis said they “surely rejoice to see our affection and our tangible longing for full communion.” (Click here to watch the video of the Divine Liturgy at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin)
Upon conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, an Ecumenical Lunch was hosted by His Holiness the Catholicos of All Armenians, with the Archbishops and the Bishops of the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Armenian Catholic Bishops and the Cardinals and Bishops of the Papal Entourage at the Apostolic Palace.
Later on, the two Heads of the Church signed a Common Declaration. Click here to read the Declaration in Armenian and in English
After signing the Declaration, His Holiness Pope Francis met with delegates and benefactors of the Armenian Apostolic Church at the Residence of the Catholicos of All Armenians. Click here to watch the Report in Armenian about signing the Common Declaration and the Meeting with delegates and benefactors
On Sunday, June 26th, Pope Francis ended his three day Apostolic journey to Armenia with a visit to “Khor Virap” Monastery at the foot of Mount Ararat where Saint Gregory the Illuminator was held prisoner for thirteen long years before bringing about the conversion of the King Trdat in 301. A conversion which led to Armenia becoming the first nation ever to adopt Christianity as a State religion. The two Church Leaders prayed in the monastery, following which, together they released two white doves towards the biblical Mount Ararat. A striking gesture which holds within it a symbol of unity and peace. (Click here to watch the video of the Prayer at the monastery of Khor Virap)
From “Khor Virap” His Holiness Pope Francis travelled to Yerevan’s Zvartnots Airport where a farewell ceremony took place with participation of His Holiness Karekin II; His Excellency Mr. Serzh Sarkisyan, President of the Republic of Armenia and First Lady Ms. Rita Sarkisyan; State officials and Bishops of the Catholic and Armenian Apostolic Churches. (Click here to watch the video of the Farewell ceremony)
On the way back from Armenia to Rome, in response to a journalist’s question as to “why did you decide to add openly the word genocide to your speech at the presidential palace?” His Holiness Pope Francis responded: “I’ve always spoke of three genocides in the last century… always three! The first was the Armenian, then that of Hitler, and the last is that of Stalin… there are small ones, there is another in Africa, but as in the orbit of the two great wars there are these three… I’ve asked why… But there, I wanted to underscore something else, and I don’t think I err that I also said: in this genocide, as in the other two, the great international powers looked in the other direction. And this was the thing. In the Second World War some powers, which had photographed the train lines that led to Auschwitz had the possibility to bomb and didn’t do it. An example. In the context of the First War, where was the problem of the Armenians? And in the context of the Second War where was the problem of Hitler and Stalin and after Yalta of the area… and all that no one speak about. One has to underscore this. And make the historical question: why didn’t you do this, you powers? I don’t accuse, I ask a question. It’s curious. They looked at the war, at so many things… but not the people… and I don’t know if it’s true, but I would like to know if it’s true that when Hitler persecuted the Jews, one of the words, of the thing that he may have said was “Well, who remembers today the Armenians, let’s do the same with the Jews.” I don’t know if it’s true, maybe it’s hearsay, but I’ve heard this said. Historians, search and see if it’s true. I think I answered. But I never said this word with an offensive intention, if not objectively.”