YEREVAN (AFP)–Pope John Paul II on Thursday described the pogroms of Armenia’s by Turks at the start of the last century as genocide–the first time he used the symbolically-charged word since arriving in Armenia.
The comment is likely to anger Turkey–which is adamant that the massacre of an estimated 1.5 million Armenian Christians in 1915 should not be classified as a genocide.
The Roman Catholic pontiff made the remark in a joint declaration with Catholicos Karekin II–head of the Armenian Church–on the final day of his three-day visit to Armenia.
"The extermination of a million and a half Armenian Christians–in what is generally referred to as the first genocide of the Twentieth century–and the subsequent annihilation of thousands under the former totalitarian regime are tragedies that still live in the memory of the present-day generation," the declaration stated.
The pope first recognized the massacre as a genocide in a joint declaration issued during the Armenian spiritual leader’s visit to the Vatican in November.
On Thursday–the pope referred to the massacres as genocide last year. But according to sources from the Vatican–Turkey put pressure on the Holy See not to use the word during the visit to Armenia.
The joint declaration added–"These innocents who were butchered in vain have not been canonized–but many among them were certainly confessors and martyrs for the name of Christ."
"Particularly today–the complexities and challenges of the international situation require a choice between good and evil–darkness and light–humanity and inhumanity–truth and falsehood."
Pope John Paul II also presided over an open-air Mass at the Altar in Holy Etchmiadzin on September 27. The Mass followed speeches by representatives of the Catholic community of Armenia and Javakhk (the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of Georgia). His Holiness Pope John Paul II and Catholicos of All Armenia’s Karekin II both spoke .
Catholicos of All Armenia’s Karekin II–in particular–said in his speech that the visit of the Pope would strengthen the fraternal love and good relations between the two Churches.
The Pope begged forgiveness from God for past omissions in promoting unity among Christian churches. "I am sure that other brothers and sisters of the Armenian Apostolic Church regard the members of the Catholic community as martyrs of the same mother–the blessed land of Armenia," said the Pope.
The head of the Armenian Catholic Church Bishop Nerses Nersessian also greeted the faithful.
The Mass was accompanied featured the powerful chants of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The Pope and the Armenian Patriarch said a joint prayer of Absolution in Armenian and then blessed those present who were chanting "Long Live the Pope!"
On September 26–at 6:30 p.m.–an ecumenical service–presided over by His Holiness Karekin II–Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenia’s–and His Holiness Pope John Paul II–Patriarch of the West and Bishop of Rome and Head of the Roman Catholic Church–was held in the newly consecrated cathedral of St. Gregory the Illuminator–in Yerevan. The two Pontiffs prayed together for the prosperity of two Churches–and continuing brotherly love and peace throughout the world.
While entering the Cathedral amidst the singing of Church hymns and songs–the Armenian Pontiff and the Holy Father stopped before the canopy installed in the forecourt–to bow and worship the relics of St. Gregory the Illuminator–the first Armenian Pontiff. The relics–which His Holiness John Paul II gave to His Holiness Karekin II on the occasion of the Armenian Pontiff’s visit to Vatican–were installed in the new Cathedral for its consecration several days ago.
Greeting the Holy Father’s and Catholic brothers’ and sisters’ presence in the Church–His Holiness Karekin II said it was symbolic that the second service–following the dedication ceremony of consecration of the magnificent Cathedral bearing the name of the first Armenian Pontiff–is a joint ecumenical prayer of two sister churches sharing the same faith.
His Holiness Karekin II noted–"Our people are greatly pleased and comforted by the fact that our 1700th jubilee is celebrated in many Christian Churches. We are particularly happy that the Catholic Church–rich in so many traditions–is celebrating it also."
His Holiness was also very grateful for exhibition of Christian Armenian Art–organized in the Vatican–in 1997–which was dedicated to the 1700th Anniversary of Proclamation of Christianity as the State Religion of Armenia.
His Holiness Karekin II was also very grateful to the Holy Father for recognizing and condemning the Armenia’s’ Genocide–and mentioned that "the world is still full of violence–injustice and evil. Christian Churches–strongly feel the need for acting together and helping each other."
In his speech the Holy Father also stressed the importance for dialogue and brotherly love between churches–based on mutual respect and understanding. In his long speech the Holy Father highly appreciated the role of Armenian Church–founded by the St. Apostles–in the Christian world–and the unwavering faith of the Armenian people–who has passed through centuries-old tribulations and tormen’s–towards the Cross of Christ.
The Pope highly appreciated the contribution of Vazken I and Karekin I Catholicoi of All Armenia’s–for fostering brotherly relations between the two sister churches. At the conclusion of the ceremony the Armenian Pontiff gave the Holy Father the relics of St. Gregory the Illuminator asking the Holy Father to bless the faithful.
His Excellency Robert Kocharian–President of the Republic of Armenia–high-ranking state officials–thousands of faithful people attended the ecumenical service.
In the morning of September 27 His Holiness Pope John Paul II–Patriarch of the West and Bishop of Rome–Head of the Roman Catholic Church–who is the guest of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin–celebrated a Divine liturgy in the Latin rite on the newly consecrated open altar of Holy Etchmiadzin.
Before the beginning of the Divine Liturgy His Holiness Karekin II–who was on the altar together with the Holy Father–greeted the Holy Father and the people in attendance.
In his speech the Armenian Pontiff noted–"Faith is the one important aspect that combines our ministry and calls us to work in love and harmony together in spite of our unique differences. We glorify God that day by day new steps are being taken in Christian ecumenical relations and cooperation strengthening the mutual understanding and cooperative spirit within Christ’s universal Church. To this cause your Holiness’ continuous efforts and tireless travels are directed also."
During the Divine Liturgy the Holy Father gave his blessing and delivered a message to the faithful in attendance.
Despite the fact that the Divine Liturgy was celebrated according to the Latin rite–the choir sang Armenian Church hymns and songs.
The Armenian Airlines leased a new engine from the Airbus Industrie for a A-310 airbus after it had to make an emergency landing September 17 just 15 minutes after taking off.
Now the airbus is continuing its regular flights and Pope John Paul II will leave Armenia on board the airbus.
The other six TU-154–four TU-134 and two IL-86 planes belonging to Armenian Airlines–cannot fly overseas–particularly to Europe–because it makes too much noise than is allowed by ICAO regulations.