On Monday, September 7, Pope Francis celebrated Mass, in the chapel of the Santa Marta residence in Vatican City, with the recently-elected Armenian Patriarch of Cilicia, His Beatitude Gregory Peter XX Ghabroyan, as well as with the Bishops of Synod of the Apostolic Armenian Catholic Church and the Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri.
During the Mass, Pope Francis spoke about the persecution of Christians throughout history, specifically referencing the 1915 Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Turkey, and drew parallels to Christian persecution today in the Middle East.
“Today 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,” Pope Francis said.
Pope Francis referred to the Armenian Genocide as “One of many great persecutions: that of the Armenian people,” and that Armenia was “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.”
“We now, in the newspapers, hear 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 Pontiff said, pointing out that “this happens before the whole world, with the complicit silence of many powerful leaders who could stop it.”
The Assembly strongly supports the Holy Father’s call on the international community to take action. Indeed, the ongoing refugee crisis caused by the wars in Syria and Iraq must be addressed and could have been prevented. Equally troubling are the renewed attacks on the Kurds and threats to Armenians in Turkey. “We must turn these districts into Armenian and Kurdish cemeteries,” Turkish ultra-nationalists chanted in the Armenian populated district of Istanbul this week.
The Pope’s remarks this week reaffirms the solidarity that the Catholic Church shares with the Armenian people. On the second Sunday of Easter earlier this year, Pope Francis held the Divine Mercy Sunday Mass with Armenian Catholicoi His Holiness Karekin II and His Holiness Aram I, where he called the Armenian killings “the first genocide of the 20th century.” “Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it,” Francis said during the historic Armenian Genocide centennial service on April 12.
The Pope’s April comments were at the epicenter of a wave of universal acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide on the centennial anniversary. His leadership set the stage for a series of commemorative events, services, and activities performed and organized by Catholic leaders along with Armenian Church leaders across the United States. In Los Angeles, California, home to the largest Armenian community in America, Roman Catholic Archbishop Jose Gomez hosted the Armenian Genocide centennial service at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. During the National Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide Centennial, Reverend Monsignor Walter R. Rossi, Rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at Catholic University hosted Armenian Catholicoi His Holiness Karekin II and His Holiness Aram I and a delegation of Armenian clergy for a special requiem service.
As previously noted, Pope Francis is not the first leader of the Catholic Church to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. In 2001, Pope John Paul II offered his own acknowledgement of the genocide and prayer for the victims. The Papacy itself has a long history of condemning the atrocities as far back as 1915.
“The Armenian Assembly of America greatly appreciates Pope Francis for his acknowledgement and reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide,” stated Assembly board co-chairmen Anthony Barsamian and Van Krikorian. “One hundred years after the Armenian Genocide, the Pontiff calls on leaders of nations and the perpetrator state to heal the wounds and prevent mass atrocities against those who suffer in the region today, whether they be Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or Yezidi. We commend Armenia for taking in thousands of refugees and urge the United States to take a greater role as the refugee crisis spreads and more importantly address the root causes.”
During Monday’s Mass, Pope Francis stated: “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 Let 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.”