YEREVAN (Armenpress)–An Armenian delegation headed by Prime Minister Andranik Margarian will leave for Vatican City on April 7 to attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II.
The delegation includes Armenian ambassador to Italy Ruben Shugarian–ambassador to France and Vatican Eduard Nalbandian–deputy foreign minister Armen Bayburdian–as well as Catholicos Karekin II–who will be accompanied by Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople Archbishop Mesrob Mutafian–Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) Archbishop Khajag Barsamian–and Rev. Fr. Geghard Vahuni.
Catholicos Karekin II paid tribute to the pope’s legacy in a message of condolence to the Vatican. "Throughout his 26-year reign–His Holiness Pope John Paul II was a staunch defender of life and champion of justice," he wrote. "His Holiness’s calls for peace and reconciliation in the world were anchored in his moral convictions and love for humanity."
John Paul was the first head of the Roman Catholic Church to set foot on Armenian soil and describe the 1915 slaughter of Armenia’s in Ottoman Turkey as genocide–a fact emphasized by Karekin II. The pontiff spoke of a "moment of grace and joy" as he arrived in Yerevan on September 25–2001 on a three-day visit that coincided with official celebrations of Armenia’s adoption of Christianity as a state religion.
"For ever–the annals of the universal Church will say that the people of Armenia were the first as a whole people to embrace the grace and truth for the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Chris," he declared. "You zealously guard the memory of your many martyrs: indeed–martyrdom has been the special mark of the Armenian Church and the Armenian people."
The pope had termed the 1915 tragedy a genocide in a joint communiqu with Karekin issued in the Vatican in November 2000. Another joint statement signed by the two spiritual leaders in Yerevan likewise referred to "the extermination of 1.5 million Armenian Christians in what is generally referred to as the first genocide of the 20th century."