THE MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS KAREKIN II, CATHOLICOS OF ALL ARMENIANS DURING THE MASS CELEBRATED BY
HIS HOLINESS, FRANCIS, THE POPE OF ROME
IN VARDANANTS SQUARE, GYUMRI
(Gyumri, June 25, 2016)
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
Beloved spiritual brothers and faithful children,
Today, as our Church is commemorating the Feast of the Holy Apostles of the Lord, this message directed by our Lord to His disciples, is so ever sweetly and powerfully resounding in our souls. With this God-given warm feeling of love in the name of all the faithful of the region we welcome you to the city of Gyumri, beloved brother in Christ. It brings us great joy to be joining you in prayer, a great friend of the Armenian Church and the Armenian people, in a Mass celebrated by you.
Gyumri is one of those historical towns of Armenia where centuries-old Armenian Christian values have flourished, where the history and culture of our people and the spirit of generosity have harmoniously been shaped. The people of Gyumri are distinguished for their particularly profound faith and love towards the Church. They are also bearers of a beautiful tradition of Christian brotherly coexistence, which is witnessed by the prayerful presence of the faithful of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic Churches, as well as of other Christian denominations. During the Soviet years of atheism churches were being destroyed or shut in Armenia, and only through the zealous resistance of our people, the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin and a few other churches were still open. During that time, Gyumri’s church of the Holy Mother of God (Yotverk) opened its maternal bosom and became a haven and a place of prayer for all the Christians of the Northern districts of Armenia and of the ethnically Armenian towns and villages of Georgia, regardless of their national identity or what denomination they belonged to, may they be Armenian Apostolic, Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. The Northern apse of Yotverk church was turned into a place of prayer for the Catholic faithful where the crucifixion statue in the Catholic tradition, brought from the Catholic Church of Arevik village, was erected and is maintained to this day. While the Southern apse was provided to the Russian Orthodox where in a most honorable place, the Russian icon of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker was placed. Thus, Gyumri and the church of the Holy Mother of God (Yotverk) became a tangible provider and preacher for ecumenism, years before the modern definition of ecumenism was established.
Beloved brother in Christ, the city which we are visiting today, on its warm and hospitable heart, also carries the seal of anguish. At the dawn of the twentieth century, when our people were subjected to genocide, Gyumri as well felt the heavy blows of the Ottoman Empire’s devastating and invasive politics. Today as well Gyumri faces closed borders as a witness to the genocide committed one hundred years ago and to the continuous denialist policies.
The pious people in Gyumri stood against the disaster of the earthquake through faith and brave heart. On this occasion we extend our words of appreciation to the Catholic Church, who also in those difficult days gave a helping hand of brotherly love to the victims of the earthquake, according to the words of the apostle, “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:23-24). Today as well our Children in Gyumri continue to overcome the difficulties and make dedicated efforts to transform Gyumri into a prosperous and thriving city. The testimonies to this are the Catholic Church, built in the recent years, and the two restored historic churches, gracefully overlooking this square as symbols of the revival of Gyumri.
Giving thanks to the Lord for this blessed day of unity of prayer in Gyumri, together with our beloved brother Pope Francis, we bring to you, dear faithful, our plea and wish so that through the firm steps of faith, brotherly love, and hope, you may witness in this world to the following commandment of Christ, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34)
With this wish we also greet and extend our appreciation and blessings to government officials of Gyumri and the region, and to our faithful people of Shirak. We bring our appreciation and blessings to the Primate of the Diocese of Shirak, His Grace Bishop Michael Ajapahyan, and his co-serving clergy, as well as to the clergy of the Catholic community under the leadership of His Eminence, Archbishop Rafael Minassian. We wish them, with the support of the Lord, to successfully continue the pastoral care of their flock and the partnership in brotherly love.
We extend our prayer to Almighty God with the intercession of the Holy Apostles and all the witnesses of the Lord, for peace in the world, a prosperous and secure life for humanity and for the vibrancy of the holy Church of Christ.
Your Holiness, our dear brother in Christ, your visit to Gyumri is a spiritual renewal for the faithful of the region of Shirak, and it shall always be remembered with warmth and love.
Again with a joyous heart we reaffirm that your visit is a new testimony to the fraternal relationship between our churches.
May God keep steadfast the brotherhood and make fruitful the cooperation between our churches. Forever and ever. Amen.