VATICAN CITY (Vatican Radio)—The Director of the Holy See’s Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, on Tuesday briefed journalists on Pope Francis’ 3-day visit to Armenia taking place from June 24-26. He said the papal visit underlines the Pope’s desire to show his closeness to the entire nation of Armenia, whose people who have suffered so much during their long history and who shares their desire for peace.
Father Lombardi noted that the Pope’s visit to Armenia should be considered as the first part of a trip that will take him to three nations in the Caucus region in 2016. The second leg will take place from September 30th to October 2nd when the Pope will travel to Azerbaijan and Georgia.
Ecumenism, the aim to promote unity among all Christian churches, is a key focus of the Pope’s journey to Armenia that follows a visit to the Vatican in April 2015 by Catholicos, Karekin II, the Patriarch of All Armenia. A Mass was celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica to commemorate the centenary of the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Empire in 1915.
During his trip to Armenia, the Pope will meet descendants of those killed during that massacre when he travels to a memorial complex in the city of Tsitzernakaberd situated in the south of the nation.
Father Lombardi also revealed that among the journalists travelling to Armenia for the papal visit is Evangelina Himitian, the daughter of an Armenian evangelical pastor in Argentina and a friend of the then Cardinal Bergoglio during his time as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. The journalist’s grandparents were witnesses and victims of the Ottoman persecution of Armenians and their lives were saved through the help of some Turkish peasants who offered them protection.
Other highlights of the Pope’s program during his visit to Armenia include the Pope’s meeting with the civil and religious authorities including the Catholicos and other representatives of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The Pope will also visit Gyumri, Armenia’s second largest city, where he will hold an open-air Mass before returning to the capital to attend an ecumenical meeting and prayer for peace.
On his final day, the Pope will visit the Khor Virap monastery near the Turkish border where he will release doves in the direction of Mount Ararat. The monastery is revered as the site where St. Gregory the Illuminator, the founder of Christianity in Armenia, was imprisoned.