Working toward full communion is a project of love, humility and peace, Pope Francis told Armenian Orthodox leaders gathered at an ecumenical meeting on Saturday.
“With great joy, we are walking together on a journey that has already taken us far, and we look confidently towards the day when by God’s help we shall be united around the altar of Christ’s sacrifice in the fullness of Eucharistic communion,” he said.
About 95 percent of Armenia’s 3 million people practice Christianity. Of those Christians, about 92 percent belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church, which is in communion with the other Oriental Orthodox Churches.
Pope Francis, together with the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos Karekin II, the leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church, offered prayers and remarks on peace and unity in the Armenian city of Yerevan during the Holy Father’s visit to the country.
“On this journey, we have been preceded by, and walk with, many witnesses, particularly all those martyrs who sealed our common faith in Christ by their blood. They are our stars in heaven, shining upon us here below and pointing out the path towards full communion,” he said.
Francis particularly focused on the example Catholicos Nerses Shnorhali, a 12th century leader and saint of the Armenian Apostolic Church who showed a great love not only for his own people but also for those in other Churches, the Pope said.
Nerses understood that Christ desired the unity of all churches, Francis said, and he worked tirelessly to achieve that goal. He also understood the need to grow in mutual love in order to heal past wounds.
“Let us make up for our shortcomings in harmony and charity,” said Pope Francis, quoting Saint Nerses, “and even – (Nerses) suggested – with a particular gentleness of love capable of softening the hardness of the heart of Christians, for they too are often concerned only with themselves and their own advantage.”
By praying together in a spirit of love and humility, both Churches can prepare to receive God’s gift of unity, Pope Francis added.
“Let us pursue our journey with determination; indeed, let us race towards our full communion!”
Pope Francis and Catholicos Karekin II also both spoke of the need to work for peace in their addresses at the meeting. In attendance at the meeting were many refugees from neighboring countries of Azerbaijan, Syria, and Iraq, driven out of their countries by war, violence and terrorism.
In addition to the current conflicts in the Middle East, Pope Francis also recalled “the terrible trials” of the past century in Armenia, particularly the massacre of as many as 1.5 million Armenian Christians in 1915, which the Holy Father has referred to as a genocide.
Pope Francis’ June 24-26 trip to Armenia includes a time to pray at the Tzitzernakaberd Genocide Memorial Complex. He is the second Pope to visit Armenia, after Pope John Paul II who, in 2001, signed a joint declaration with Catholicos Karekin II, calling the 1915 massacres a genocide.
“Here I would again state that your sufferings are our own: ‘they are the sufferings of the members of Christ’s Mystical Body,’’ Pope Francis said in his address, quoting Pope John Paul II.
“At the same time, I recall with admiration how the Christian faith, even at the most tragic moments of Armenian history, was the driving force that marked the beginning of your suffering people’s rebirth,” Francis added.
“Those terrible, painful wounds suffered on the cross, transfigured by love, have become a wellspring of forgiveness and peace. Even the greatest pain, transformed by the saving power of the cross, of which Armenians are heralds and witnesses, can become a seed of peace for the future.”
Pope Francis also recalled the peaceful witness of the Armenian Saint Gregory of Narek, whom the Holy Father declared a Doctor of the Church last year.
“He could also be defined as a ‘Doctor of Peace,’ Francis said.
“Narek… sought also to identify with the weak and sinners of every time and place in order to intercede on behalf of all. He became ‘the intercessor of the whole world.’ This, his universal solidarity with humanity, is a great Christian message of peace, a heartfelt plea of mercy for all,” the Pope said.
“The whole world needs this message, it needs your presence, it needs your purest witness. Kha’ra’rutiun amenetzun! (Peace to you!).”