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(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis flew back to Italy Sunday evening after his Apostolic Voyage to Armenia. It was the fourteenth international journey of Pope Francis’ pontificate.
The Pope’s plane landed at Rome’s Ciampino Airport a little after 8:30 Sunday evening, after just under four hours of flight time.
Before returning to the Vatican, Pope Francis, as has become customary, paid a brief visit to the Basilica of St Mary Major, where he prayed before the icon of Mary, Salus Populi Romani (Protectress of the Roman People), in thanksgiving for the happy outcome of the Apostolic Voyage.(from Vatican Radio)
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis spoke on the Armenian genocide, the relation of the Church to homosexuals, and Britain’s vote last week to leave the European Union, as well as a host of other topics in a wide-ranging press conference on his flight back to Rome following his Apostolic Voyage to Armenia.
Sunday’s in-flight press conference began with questions about the Apostolic Voyage to Armenia that Pope Francis had just concluded. Asked about his message for Armenia for the future, the Holy Father spoke about his hopes and prayers for justice and peace, and his encouragement that leaders are working to that end. In particular, he talked of the work of reconciliation with Turkey and with Azerbaijan. The Pope will be travelling to Azerbaijani later this year.
Pope Francis also spoke about his use of the word ‘genocide,’ acknowledging the legal import of the expression, but explaining that this was the term commonly in use in Argentina for the massacre of Armenians during the first World War.
During the press conference, Pope Francis also addressed a number of religious and ecumenical issues. Speaking about the controversy that arose from remarks by the Prefect of the Pontifical Household, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, who in a speech earlier this month had spoken of a shared “Petrine ministry,” Pope Francis insisted there was only one Pope, while praising the pope emeritus as a “great man of God.”
About the Pan-Orthodox Council, which concluded Sunday in Crete, the Pope said, “A step was made forward . . . I think the result was positive.” In response to a question about upcoming commemorations of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant “Reformation,” Pope Francis said, “I think perhaps this is also the right moment for us not only to remember the wounds on both sides, but also to recognize the gifts of the Reformation.” He also had words of praise for Martin Luther. The Pope praying and working together are important for fostering unity.
Pope Francis also answered a question about women deacons, and his decision to form a commission to study the issue. He said he was surprised and annoyed to hear that his remarks were interpreted to mean that the Church had opened the door to deaconesses. “This is not telling the truth of things,” he said. But, he continued, “women’s thought is important,” because they approach questions differently from men. “One cannot make a good decision without listening to women.
Reporters also questioned the Pope about recent events, including the recent “Brexit” vote in Britain. He said he had not had time to study the reasons for the British vote to leave the European Union, but noted that the vote showed “divisions,” which could also be seen in other countries. “Fraternity is better, and bridges are better than walls,” he said, but he acknowledged that there are “different ways of unity.” Creativity and fruitfulness are two key words for the European Union as it faces new challenges.
The secular press, meanwhile, latched onto remarks Pope Francis made concerning the Church’s relationship to homosexuals. Insisting once again that homosexuals must not be discriminated against, the Pope said that the Church should apologize to homosexuals and ask forgiveness for offending them – but he added, the Church should also ask forgiveness of any groups of persons who had been hurt by Christians who do not live up to the Gospel. There will always be good and bad Christians in the Church, he said, citing Christ’s parable of the wheat and the weeds. “All of us are saints, because all of us have the Holy Spirit. But we are all sinners, [and] I [am] the first.”
Finally, answering a question from Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, Pope Francis reflected on his visit to the Memorial at Tzitzernakaberd, and his upcoming journey to Poland, which will include a visit to Auschwitz. The Pope said that in such places, he likes to reflect silently, “alone,” praying that the Lord might grant him “the grace of crying.”
At the conclusion of the press conference, Pope Francis thanked the reporters for their hard work and goodness.(from Vatican Radio)
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis ended his three day Apostolic journey to Armenia, his 14th abroad with a visit to ‘Khor Virap’ monastery at the foot of Mount Ararat. A significant site linked to the conversion of this nation to Christianity.
Veronica Scarisbrick reports:
The red brick monastery of Khor Virap at the foot of Mount Ararat where tradition holds that Noah’s ark came to rest after the floods is one of Armenia’s most sacred sites. It’s here that the most memorable image of Pope Francis’s visit to Armenia played out.
That of the Pope and the Patriarch standing out against the skyline in unison in the shadow of the snow-capped Mount, as together they release two white doves which flutter into the evening light before soaring up high. A striking gesture which holds within it a symbol of unity and peace.
By contrast the name of the monastery provides a sinking feeling as it means 'deep dungeon'. And while dark and musty dungeons really exist here, some sinking deep into the ground, over six metres under one of the Chapels of the monastery complex, what really matters is that it was in one of these dungeons, often referred to as a well, that Saint Gregory the Illuminator, was held prisoner for thirteen lonng years before bringing about the conversion of the King in 301, so at the beginning of the fourth century. A conversion which led to Armenia becoming the first nation ever to adopt Christianity as a State religion.
And a conversion which was no doubt on the Pope’s mind as together with the Patriarch he made his way up two narrow flights of stairs to the room known as the ‘Well of Saint Gregory’. They were there to light a candle before making their way to the nearby Chapel to pray: the Patriarch in Armenian and the Pope in Italian.
Before leaving this land which Pope Francis has described as ‘beloved’ he 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.
Words pronounced a day earlier when he had symbolically watered, once again together with the Patriarch, the seedlings of a vine in a model of Noah’s Ark. New life that grows out of memory.
(from Vatican Radio)
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis and Catholicos Karekin II, leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church on Sunday signed a common declaration, giving thanks for the progress towards Christian unity, and appealing for peace in the Middle East and other regions torn apart by conflict, terrorism and religious persecution.
At the conclusion of a three day pastoral visit to Armenia, the first country to embrace the Christian faith, the Pope joined the Patriarch in calling for a peaceful resolution in neighbouring Nagorno-Karabakh. The declaration also recalls “the extermination of a million and a half Armenian Christians, in what is generally referred to as the first genocide of the twentieth century”.
In the statement the two religious leaders pray for a change of heart in all who commit violence, as well as imploring leaders of nations to hear the cry of those people “who have urgent need of bread, not guns”.
They acknowledge all that is already being done to support victims of violence, but they insist that much more is needed on the part of political leaders and the international community to ensure the right of all to live in peace and security, to uphold the rule of law, to protect religious and ethnic minorities, to combat human trafficking and smuggling.
Please find below the full text of the Common Declaration of Pope Francis and Catholicos Karekin II at Holy Etchmiadzin, Republic of Armenia
Today in Holy Etchmiadzin, spiritual center of All Armenians, we, Pope Francis and Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II raise our minds and hearts in thanksgiving to the Almighty for the continuing and growing closeness in faith and love between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church in their common witness to the Gospel message of salvation in a world torn by strife and yearning for comfort and hope. We praise the Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for enabling us to come together in the biblical land of Ararat, which stands as a reminder that God will ever be our protection and salvation. We are spiritually gratified to remember that in 2001, on the occasion of the 1700th anniversary of the proclamation of Christianity as the religion of Armenia, Saint John Paul II visited Armenia and was a witness to a new page in warm and fraternal relations between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church. We are grateful that we had the grace of being together, at a solemn liturgy in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome on 12 April 2015, where we pledged our will to oppose every form of discrimination and violence, and commemorated the victims of what the Common Declaration of His Holiness John-Paul II and His Holiness Karekin II spoke of as “the extermination of a million and a half Armenian Christians, in what is generally referred to as the first genocide of the twentieth century” (27 September 2001).
We praise the Lord that today, the Christian faith is again a vibrant reality in Armenia, and that the Armenian Church carries on her mission with a spirit of fraternal collaboration between the Churches, sustaining the faithful in building a world of solidarity, justice and peace.
Sadly, though, we are witnessing an immense tragedy unfolding before our eyes, of countless innocent people being killed, displaced or forced into a painful and uncertain exile by continuing conflicts on ethnic, economic, political and religious grounds in the Middle East and other parts of the world. As a result, religious and ethnic minorities have become the target of persecution and cruel treatment, to the point that suffering for one’s religious belief has become a daily reality. The martyrs belong to all the Churches and their suffering is an “ecumenism of blood” which transcends the historical divisions between Christians, calling us all to promote the visible unity of Christ’s disciples. Together we pray, through the intercession of the holy Apostles, Peter and Paul, Thaddeus and Bartholomew, for a change of heart in all those who commit such crimes and those who are in a position to stop the violence. We implore the leaders of nations to listen to the plea of millions of human beings who long for peace and justice in the world, who demand respect for their God-given rights, who have urgent need of bread, not guns. Sadly, we are witnessing a presentation of religion and religious values in a fundamentalist way, which is used to justify the spread of hatred, discrimination and violence. The justification of such crimes on the basis of religious ideas is unacceptable, for “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace” (I Corinthians 14:33). Moreover, respect for religious difference is the necessary condition for the peaceful cohabitation of different ethnic and religious communities. Precisely because we are Christians, we are called to seek and implement paths towards reconciliation and peace. In this regard we also express our hope for a peaceful resolution of the issues surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh.
Mindful of what Jesus taught his disciples when he said: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25: 35-36), we ask the faithful of our Churches to open their hearts and hands to the victims of war and terrorism, to refugees and their families. At issue is the very sense of our humanity, our solidarity, compassion and generosity, which can only be properly expressed in an immediate practical commitment of resources. We acknowledge all that is already being done, but we insist that much more is needed on the part of political leaders and the international community in order to ensure the right of all to live in peace and security, to uphold the rule of law, to protect religious and ethnic minorities, to combat human trafficking and smuggling.
The secularization of large sectors of society, its alienation from the spiritual and divine, leads inevitably to a desacralized and materialistic vision of man and the human family. In this respect we are concerned about the crisis of the family in many countries. The Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church share the same vision of the family, based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between man and woman.
We gladly confirm that despite continuing divisions among Christians, we have come to realize more clearly that what unites us is much more than what divides us. This is the solid basis upon which the unity of Christ’s Church will be made manifest, in accordance with the Lord’s words, “that they all may be one” (John 17.21). Over the past decades the relationship between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church has successfully entered a new phase, strengthened by our mutual prayers and joint efforts in overcoming contemporary challenges. Today we are convinced of the crucial importance of furthering this relationship, engaging in deeper and more decisive collaboration not only in the area of theology, but also in prayer and active cooperation on the level of the local communities, with a view to sharing full communion and concrete expressions of unity. We urge our faithful to work in harmony for the promotion in society of the Christian values which effectively contribute to building a civilization of justice, peace and human solidarity. The path of reconciliation and brotherhood lies open before us. May the Holy Spirit, who guides us into all truth (cf. John 16:13), sustain every genuine effort to build bridges of love and communion between us.
From Holy Etchmiadzin we call on all our faithful to join us in prayer, in the words of Saint Nerses the Gracious: “Glorified Lord, accept the supplications of Your servants, and graciously fulfil our petitions, through the intercession of the Holy Mother of God, John the Baptist, the first martyr Saint Stephen, Saint Gregory our Illuminator, the Holy Apostles, Prophets, Divines, Martyrs, Patriarchs, Hermits, Virgins and all Your saints in Heaven and on Earth. And unto You, O indivisible Holy Trinity, be glory and worship forever and ever. Amen”.
Holy Etchmiadzin, 26 June 2016
His Holiness Francis His Holiness Karekin II(from Vatican Radio)
(Vatican Radio) On the last day of his three day visit to Armenia, Pope Francis participated Sunday in the Divine Liturgy celebrated by his Oriental Orthodox host, Catholicos of all Armenians Karekin II. 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.”
Listen to the report by Tracey McClure:
Thanking Catholicos Karekin for his hospitality, Pope Francis said, “you have opened to me the doors of your home and we have experienced ‘how good and pleasant it is when brothers live in unity’.”
“We have met, we have embraced as brothers, we have prayed together and shared the gifts, hopes and concerns of the Church of Christ. We have felt as one her beating heart, and we believe and experience that the Church is one,” Pope Francis said.
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,” the pontiff said they “surely rejoice to see our affection and our tangible longing for full communion.”
Francis prayed the Holy Spirit to “make all believers one heart and soul; may he come to re-establish us in unity” and, “may the cause of our scandal be dissolved” by God’s love, “above all the lack of unity among Christ’s disciples.”
Calling for peace in the Armenian Church and “complete” communion, Pope Francis prayed for “an ardent desire for unity” among Christians. But such unity, he stressed, must not mean “the submission of one to the other, or assimilation, but rather the acceptance of all the gifts that God has given to each.”
Concluding, Pope Francis urged the faithful to “listen to the voices of the humble and poor, of the many victims of hatred who suffered and gave their lives for the faith” and to young people “who seek a future free of past divisions.”
From this holy place, the Pope said, “may a radiant light shine forth once more… and to the light of faith which has illumined these lands from the time of Saint Gregory…may there be joined the light of the love that forgives and reconciles.”
Below, please find the English translation of Pope Francis’ discourse:
Your Holiness, Dear Bishops,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
At the end of this greatly-desired visit, one already unforgettable for me, I join my gratitude to the Lord with the great hymn of praise and thanksgiving that rose from this altar. Your Holiness, in these days you have opened to me the doors of your home, and we have experienced “how good and pleasant it is when brothers live in unity” (Ps 133:1). We have met, we have embraced as brothers, we have prayed together and shared the gifts, hopes and concerns of the Church of Christ. We have felt as one her beating heart, and we believe and experience that the Church is one. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4-6). With great joy we can make our own these words of the Apostle Paul! Our meeting comes under the aegis of the holy Apostles whom we have encountered. 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 and now reign with Christ in heaven, surely rejoice to see our affection and our tangible longing for full communion. For all this, I thank the Lord, for you and with you: Park astutsò! (Glory to God!).
During this Divine Liturgy, the solemn chant of the Trisagion rose to heaven, acclaiming God’s holiness. May abundant blessings of the Most High fill the earth through the intercession of the Mother of God, the great saints and doctors, the martyrs, especially the many whom you canonized last year in this place. May “the Only Begotten who descended here” bless our journey. May the Holy Spirit make all believers one heart and soul; may he come to re-establish us in unity. For this I once more invoke the Holy Spirit, making my own the splendid words that are part of your Liturgy. Come, Holy Spirit, you “who intercede with ceaseless sighs to the merciful Father, you who watch over the saints and purify sinners”, bestow on us your fire of love and unity, and “may the cause of our scandal be dissolved by this love” (Gregory of Narek, Book of Lamentations, 33, 5), above all the lack of unity among Christ’s disciples.
May the Armenian Church walk in peace and may the communion between us be complete. May an ardent desire for unity rise up in our hearts, a unity that must not be “the submission of one to the other, or assimilation, but rather the acceptance of all the gifts that God has given to each. This will reveal to the entire world the great mystery of salvation accomplished by Christ the Lord through the Holy Spirit” (Greeting at the Divine Liturgy, Patriarchal Church of Saint George, Istanbul, 30 November 2014).
Let us respond to the appeal of the saints, let us listen to the voices of the humble and poor, of the many victims of hatred who suffered and gave their lives for the faith. Let us pay heed to the younger generation, who seek a future free of past divisions. From this holy place may a radiant light shine forth once more, and to the light of faith, which has illumined these lands from the time of Saint Gregory, your Father in the Gospel, may there be joined the light of the love that forgives and reconciles.
Just as on Easter morning the Apostles, for all their hesitations and uncertainties, ran towards the place of the resurrection, drawn by the blessed dawn of new hope (cf. Jn 20:3-4), so too on this holy Sunday may we follow God’s call to full communion and hasten towards it.
Now, Your Holiness, in the name of God, I ask you to bless me, to bless me and the Catholic Church, and to bless this our path towards full unity.(from Vatican Radio)
(Vatican Radio) At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy celebrated in Etchmiadzin, Armenia, the Catholicos of all Armenians Karekin II thanked Pope Francis for his “brotherly visit” to the country and prayed that the Lord “keep firm our Churches in love and collaboration” and “grant us new opportunities for witness of brotherhood.”
Pope Francis has been the guest of the Oriental Orthodox Catholicos during his three day pastoral visit to Armenia and participated in Sunday’s celebration.
In a reflection on the miracle of the multiplication of bread, the day’s reading of the Scripture, the Catholicos recalled that Christ performed the miracle in order to feed the hungry crowds. “The essence of this miracle, which became one of the important missions of Christ’s Holy Church,” he said, “is the satisfaction of empty spirits” by the Gospel teachings and “the support of the needy through compassion.”
The Lord urges us to be “co-workers with God,” he added, by rejuvenating the faith through good works, prayer and “worship with compassion” and “giving alms,” he said.
“Today, faith in God is being tempted and human souls are being hardened during times of hardship and difficulties as well as during times of wealth and lavishness, when they are disengaged with the concerns of those who long for daily bread and are in pain and suffering,” added the Catholicos. And, he warned: “Faith is put to the test by extremism and other kinds of ideologies; xenophobia, addictions, passions and self-centred profits. The processes of secularism are intensifying, spiritual and ethical values and views are distorted, and the family structure, established by God, is being shaken. The root of evil in modern life is in trying to build a world without God, to construe the laws and commandments of God which bring forward economic, political, social, environmental and other problems, that day by day deepen and threaten the natural way of life.”
But, “goodness will prevail in the world and current challenges will be overcome” through Christ’s Eucharist and reflection on Christ’s teachings he observed. Such Christian witness, he said, “will repeat the miracle of the multiplication of the bread through supporting and consoling the needy, the sick, and the sorrowful.”
Ecumenical brotherhood and mission
During Pope Francis’ visit, Catholicos Karekin took care to stress, “we reconfirmed that the Holy Church of Christ is one in the spreading of the gospel of Christ in the world, in taking care of creation, standing against common problems, and in the vital mission of the salvation of man who is the crown and glory of God’s creation. The inseparable mission of the Church of Christ is the strengthening of solidarity among nations and peoples, reinforcing of brotherhood and collaboration, and a witness to this is the participation in this Divine Liturgy today of the ethnic minorities in Armenia: the Assyrians, Belarus, Greeks, Georgians, Jews, Yezidis, Kurds, Germans, Poles, Russians and Ukrainians who in brotherly coexistence with our people bring their assistance towards the development of our country and the progress of social life.”
Below, please find the English translation of Catholicos Karekin II’s discourse:
When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd;
and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
Yours Holiness, beloved brother in Christ,
Your Excellency, President of the Republic of Armenia,
Beloved spiritual brothers and faithful people,
Over the course of the past few days we have been experiencing an abundance of spiritual joy and joint prayer while glorifying God in Holy Etchmiadzin. Today we have gathered for the celebration of Divine Liturgy, joined in prayer by the Pontiff of Rome, our beloved brother, Pope Francis.
It is symbolic that today’s reading of the Scripture, during the celebration of Divine Liturgy, was the story of the multiplication of bread. The Evangelist tells us that when Christ secluded himself, knowing this, the multitude of people followed Him, and when the Lord saw the gathered crowd, He had compassion for them and healed the sick. In the evening the apostles asked the Lord to set the people free so that they could find food for themselves. Christ commanded them to feed the people. However, there was a shortage of food, and the Lord blessed it and the bread, which had miraculously multiplied, was enough for the apostles to feed the entire multitude.
The essence of this miracle, which became one of the important missions of Christ’s Holy Church, is the satisfaction of empty spirits by the Lord-given teachings and the support of the needy through compassion. The Lord urges His followers to rejuvenate faith by works, to conjoin prayer and worship with compassion, and to give alms; through which, by the appeasement of hardship and tribulations, we are co-workers with God, according to the words of the apostle (1 Corinthians 3:9). Through this vision, numerous prophesying Church fathers, graceful patriarchs, brave and good shepherds, countless witnesses of faith and devout believers have for centuries depicted the pages of the history of Christ’s Church with the devout preaching of the Word of God and the great works of giving alms and fostering; so that the people may be strengthened by faith, and through the works of faith they may secure the presence of God in the lives of humanity.
Today, faith in God is being tempted and human souls are being hardened during times of hardship and difficulties as well as during times of wealth and lavishness, when they are disengaged with the concerns of those who long for daily bread and are in pain and suffering. Faith is put to the test by extremism and other kinds of ideologies; xenophobia, addictions, passions and self-centred profits. The processes of secularism are intensifying, spiritual and ethical values and views are distorted, and the family structure, established by God, is being shaken. The root of evil in modern life is in trying to build a world without God, to construe the laws and commandments of God which bring forward economic, political, social, environmental and other problems, that day by day deepen and threaten the natural way of life.
Nevertheless, the world does not cease from being the center of God’s love and care. The Lord continues to say, “I am the bread of life: he that comes to me shall never hunger; and he that believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). The one who has tasted the delightful teachings of the Lord stoops to raise the fallen, to increase hope and faith in the hearts of men, and to repeat the miracle of the multiplication of the bread through supporting and consoling the needy, the sick, and the sorrowful. Goodness will prevail in the world and current challenges will be overcome by these commands of God, and by utilizing spiritual and moral values. All good works express God’s care towards humanity and the world, according to the words of the Lord, “behold the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21), and as an affirmation of this, the churches of the world bring their service.
Dear ones, during these days together with our spiritual brother, Pope Francis, with joint visits and prayers we reconfirmed that the Holy Church of Christ is one in the spreading of the gospel of Christ in the world, in taking care of creation, standing against common problems, and in the vital mission of the salvation of man who is the crown and glory of God’s creation. The inseparable mission of the Church of Christ is the strengthening of solidarity among nations and peoples, reinforcing of brotherhood and collaboration, and a witness to this is the participation in this Divine Liturgy today of the ethnic minorities in Armenia: the Assyrians, Belarus, Greeks, Georgians, Jews, Yezidis, Kurds, Germans, Poles, Russians and Ukrainians who in brotherly coexistence with our people bring their assistance towards the development of our country and the progress of social life.
On this graceful day we are appreciative for another opportunity to thank Pope Francis on the occasion of his brotherly visit. We and our people will always pray for you, beloved brother, and for your efforts made towards peace and prosperity of humanity and towards the advancement of the Church of Christ. May God give you strength, bless and keep firm our Churches in love and collaboration and may He grant us new opportunities for witness of brotherhood. In your daily prayers remember the Armenian people, the Armenian statehood and the Armenian Church and the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.
With a prayerful spirit we ask for the protection and support of the Holy Right Hand of Almighty God to shelter those suffering from wars and terrorism, as well as those who are in starvation, poverty and other kinds of afflictions. We also beseech the Lord to pour abundant graces of heaven upon our lives and the whole world. Amen
(from Vatican Radio)
(Vatican Radio) In a symbolic gesture, Pope Francis and the Catholicos of all Armenians Karekin II watered a tree symbolizing Armenia’s many Christians living in the diaspora so that they may bear fruit, signifying new life. The two Church leaders took up amphoras at the end of Saturday’s ecumenical prayer for peace in Yerevan and poured water over the earth which had been gathered by children residents of Armenia and elsewhere across the world and placed in a vessel resembling Noah’s Ark.
Armenia is home to Mount Ararat where, according to legend, Noah landed his Ark after the Great Floods.
Tens of thousands of Armenia’s Christians fled the country in the 1900s during Ottoman massacres. On Saturday, Francis paid his respects at Armenia's imposing genocide memorial and greeted descendants of survivors of the 1915 slaughter. In the memorial’s guest book, the Pope wrote: ``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 protect the memory of the Armenian people. Memory should never be watered-down or forgotten. Memory is the source of peace and the future.''
(from Vatican Radio)
(Vatican Radio) Speaking at Holy Mass Saturday in Gyumri, Armenia, Pope Francis recalled the “terrible devastation” wrought by the massive 1988 earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people and gave thanks “for all that has been rebuilt.”
In his Homily, the Pope offered three “stable foundations upon which we can tirelessly build and rebuild the Christian life.”
The first foundation, he said, is “memory:” to “recall what the Lord has done in and for us” and that “He has chosen us, loved us, called us and forgiven us.” “The memory of a people” like those in Armenia, also needs to be preserved the Pope added. “Even in the face of tremendous adversity,” he stressed, God has “remembered your faithfulness to the Gospel… and all those who testified, even at the price of their blood, that God’s love is more precious than life itself.”
Faith, the Holy Father said, is the second foundation on which to build Christian life. But, he warned, “there is always a danger that can dim the light of faith and that is the temptation to reduce it to something from the past, something important but belonging to another age…to be kept in a museum.”
The third foundation, the Pope added, “is merciful love:” “We are called above all to build and rebuild paths of communion, tirelessly creating bridges of unity and working to overcome our divisions.”
Below, please find the full English translation of Pope Francis’ Homily at Holy Mass in Gyumri, Armenia:
“They shall build up the ancient ruins… they shall repair the ruined cities” (Is 61:4). In this place, dear brothers and sisters, we can say that the words of the Prophet Isaiah have come to pass. After the terrible devastation of the earthquake, we gather today to give thanks to God for all that has been rebuilt.
Yet we might also wonder: what is the Lord asking us to build today in our lives, and even more importantly, upon what is he calling us to build our lives? In seeking an answer to this question, I would like to suggest three stable foundations upon which we can tirelessly build and rebuild the Christian life.
The first foundation is memory. One grace we can implore is that of being able to remember: to recall what the Lord has done in and for us, and to remind ourselves that, as today’s Gospel says, he has not forgotten us but “remembered” us (Lk 1:72). God has chosen us, loved us, called us and forgiven us. Great things have happened in our personal love story with him, and these must be treasured in our minds and hearts. Yet there is another memory we need to preserve: it is the memory of a people. Peoples, like individuals, have a memory. Your own people’s memory is ancient and precious. Your voices echo those of past sages and saints; your words evoke those who created your alphabet in order to proclaim God’s word; your songs blend the afflictions and the joys of your history. As you ponder these things, you can clearly recognize God’s presence. He has not abandoned you. Even in the face of tremendous adversity, we can say in the words of today’s Gospel that the Lord has visited your people (cf. Lk 1:68). He has remembered your faithfulness to the Gospel, the first-fruits of your faith, and all those who testified, even at the price of their blood, that God’s love is more precious than life itself (cf. Ps 63:4). It is good to recall with gratitude how the Christian faith became your people’s life breath and the heart of their historical memory.
Faith is also hope for your future and a light for life’s journey. Faith is the second foundation I would like to mention. There is always a danger that can dim the light of faith, and that is the temptation to reduce it to something from the past, something important but belonging to another age, as if the faith were a beautiful illuminated book to be kept in a museum. Once it is locked up in the archives of history, faith loses its power to transform, its living beauty, its positive openness to all. Faith, however, is born and reborn from a life-giving encounter with Jesus, from experiencing how his mercy illumines every situation in our lives. We would do well to renew this living encounter with the Lord each day. We would do well to read the word of God and in silent prayer to open our hearts to his love. We would do well to let our encounter with the Lord’s tenderness enkindle joy in our hearts: a joy greater than sadness, a joy that even withstands pain and in turn becomes peace. All of this renews our life, makes us free and open to surprises, ready and available for the Lord and for others.
It can happen too that Jesus calls us to follow him more closely, to give our lives to him and to our brothers and sisters. When he calls – and I say this especially to you young people – do not be afraid; tell him “Yes!” He knows us, he really loves us, and he wants to free our hearts from the burden of fear and pride. By making room for him, we become capable of radiating his love. Thus you will be able to carry on your great history of evangelization. This is something the Church and the world need in these troubled times, which are also a time of mercy.
The third foundation, after memory and faith, is merciful love: on this rock, the rock of the love we receive from God and offer to our neighbour, the life of a disciple of Jesus is based. In the exercise of charity, the Church’s face is rejuvenated and made beautiful. Concrete love is the Christian’s visiting card; any other way of presenting ourselves could be misleading and even unhelpful, for it is by our love for one another that everyone will know that we are his disciples (cf. Jn 13:35). We are called above all to build and rebuild paths of communion, tirelessly creating bridges of unity and working to overcome our divisions. May believers always set an example, cooperating with one another in mutual respect and a spirit of dialogue, knowing that “the only rivalry possible among the Lord’s disciples is to see who can offer the greater love!” (JOHN PAUL II, Homily, 27 September 2001: Insegnamenti XXIV/2 , 478).
In today’s first reading, the prophet Isaiah reminds us that the Spirit of the Lord is always with those who carry glad tidings to the poor, who bind up the brokenhearted and console the afflicted (cf. 61:1-2). God dwells in the hearts of those who love him. God dwells wherever there is love, shown especially by courageous and compassionate care for the weak and the poor. How much we need this! We need Christians who do not allow themselves to be overcome by weariness or discouraged by adversity, but instead are available, open and ready to serve. We need men and women of good will, who help their brothers and sisters in need, with actions and not merely words. We need societies of greater justice, where each individual can lead a dignified life and, above all, be fairly remunerated for his or her work.
All the same, we might ask ourselves: how can we become merciful, with all the faults and failings that we see within ourselves and all about us? I would like to appeal to one concrete example, a great herald of divine mercy, one to whom I wished to draw greater attention by making him a Doctor of the Universal Church: Saint Gregory of Narek, word and voice of Armenia. It is hard to find his equal in the ability to plumb the depths of misery lodged in the human heart. Yet he always balanced human weakness with God’s mercy, lifting up a heartfelt and tearful prayer of trust in the Lord who is “giver of gifts, root of goodness… voice of consolation, news of comfort, joyful impulse… unparalleled compassion, inexhaustible mercy… the kiss of salvation” (Book of Lamentations, 3, 1). He was certain that “the light of God’s mercy is never clouded by the shadow of indignation” (ibid., 16, 1). Gregory of Narek is a master of life, for he teaches us that the most important thing is to recognize that we are in need of mercy. Despite our own failings and the injuries done to us, we must not become self-centred but open our hearts in sincerity and trust to the Lord, to “the God who is ever near, loving and good” [ibid., 17, 2), “filled with love for mankind … a fire consuming the chaff of sin (ibid., 16, 2).
In the words of Saint Gregory, I would like now to invoke God’s mercy and his gift of unfailing love: Holy Spirit, “powerful protector, intercessor and peace-maker, we lift up our prayers to you… Grant us the grace to support one another in charity and good works… Spirit of sweetness, compassion, loving kindness and mercy… You who are mercy itself… Have mercy on us, Lord our God, in accordance with your great mercy” (Hymn of Pentecost).
(from Vatican Radio)