The Pope’s “Armenian Day” in the Vatican

Pope Francis with Patriarch Karekin II and catholicos Aram I during the inauguration of the statue of St Gregory of Narek

The Pope’s “Armenian Day” in the Vatican

By Iacopo Scaramuzzi/

In what he himself called an “Armenian Day”, Pope Francis inaugurated, shortly after noon, a bronze statue in the Vatican Gardens depicting Armenian culture’s hero, Saint Gregory of Narek, after receiving in Audience, in the morning in the Apostolic Palace, President Serzh Sargsyan and the patriarchs of the Caucasian country that converted to Christianity in the fourth century.

During the “cordial discussions” that the Head of State had with the Pope and, afterwards with Cardinal Pietro Parolin and the Vatican “Minister of Foreign Affairs” Msgr. Paul Richard Gallagher, “keen satisfaction was expressed for the good relations existing between the Holy See and Armenia”, the Vatican Press Office announced. “ It was shown that the inauguration in the Vatican Gardens of the statute of Saint Gregory of Narek, Doctor of the Church, is an opportunity to promote further these relations, as well as those between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church. In the course of the meeting – the communiqué further reads - Reference was then made to the regional political context, with hope for the solution of situations of conflict, and other current international issues were touched upon, as well as the condition of Christians and religious minorities, especially in theatres of war”.

The Argentine Pontiff elevated Saint Gregory of Narek to the dignity of Doctor of the Universal Church on 12 April 2015 with an apostolic letter announced on the day of the special mass celebrated in St Peter’s for the faithful of the Armenian rite. On that occasion, Jorge Mario Bergoglio also recalled the first “genocide of the twentieth century”, commemorated by the Armenians on 24 April. The explicit use of the term was challenged by Turkey and provoked Ankara’s protests along with a temporary withdrawal of its ambassador to the Holy See. Protests were then repeated - without the ambassador’s withdrawal - when the Pope returned to using the term “genocide” during his visit to Armenia in June 2016. The idea of offering to the Vatican City and Francis the bronze statue which was inaugurated today, took shape on the occasion of the Pope’s trip to Armenia, when President Sargsyan donated to the Argentinean Pontiff a bronze miniature of St Gregory of Narek with the hope of seeing it one day installed in the Vatican Gardens in full size.

The sober ceremony today took place behind the Palace of the Gendarmerie, and lasted about 15 minutes, beginning shortly after noon, it was attended by President Sargsyan himself, the Patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church Karekin II, catholicos of all Armenians, and the Orthodox catholicos of Cilicia, Aram I. After the prayers of the Pope (in Italian) of Aram I (in English) and of Karekin II (in Armenian), in the presence among others of Cardinals Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation of the Eastern Churches, and Giuseppe Bertello, President of the Vatican Governorate, the two-meter bronze statue of the sculptor David Erevantsi - with whom Francis briefly spoke at the conclusion of the ceremony - was unveiled.

During the morning, the Pope had received the three Armenian leaders. The president’s audience, in particular, lasted 24 minutes (from 10.06 to 10.30), Aram I’s lasted about twenty minutes (from 11.41 to 12.04), while Karekin II’s audience lasted almost 40 minutes (from 10.52 to 11.29). “It’s an Armenian day”, the Pope commented at the end of the morning.

The catholicos of all Armenians gave Francis a book on the church of Narek, according to the reporters admitted to the public moments of the meeting, he told the Pope - through the translation of an interpreter - that, “This is the monastery of Narek, it no longer exists, it was destroyed in Turkey”.

Aram I gave the Pope a cross plated with gold “symbol of the Armenian people” while President Sargsyan gave Francis a model of the church of Saint Gaiané (630), which is “important for the union of the Christians of Armenia”. At the presentation of the delegations with both patriarchs, Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, was present along with Karekin II from the Secretary of the Department, Monsignor Brian Farrell, and with Aram I from Monsignor Gabriel Quicke.

Gregory of Narek was a poet, a monk, a theologian, a philosopher, a mystic and a saint (951-1010). He is considered - as we read in a note from the Armenian Embassy to the Holy See published by the Vatican Press Office - a central figure, almost heroic, in the history of Armenia for having modelled the Eastern Christian thought. In some ways, from an intellectual point of view, he can be compared to a Dante Alighieri and for this reason he is considered by scholars as an exceptional bridge between East and West. The title of Doctor of the Church was granted by virtue of his eminent doctrine and holiness of life. The Catholic Church celebrates his feast on 27 February.

The bronze work was made possible thanks to the financial support of the Armenian Ambassador to the Holy See, Mikayel Minasyan, and Arthur Dzhanibekyan. Two copies were produced, one for the Vatican Gardens and the other for the gardens of the Catholicosate of Etchmiadzin. “Art - the Armenian Embassy closes - thus becomes a message of brotherhood capable of uniting sister Churches”.

After the morning in the Vatican, the Armenian President went for lunch to the Order of Malta’s villa, on the Aventine, and was welcomed by Friar Giacomo Dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto. During the visit, the Sovereign Order of Malta and the Republic of Armenia signed a ten-year cooperation agreement aimed at strengthening the Order of Malta’s medical and social activities in Armenia. These include the Svartnotz orphanage, which cares for more than a hundred children, the medical Centre in Dilijan for the treatment and prevention of tuberculosis, the school for children with hearing problems, and the support that the Order gives to the Etchmiadzin hospital.

In the past, according to a note from the Order, volunteers helped Armenian refugees during World War I and, in 1988, they helped victims of the earthquake that caused 25,000 victims. “The link between Armenia, the oldest Christian nation, and the Order of Malta, one of the oldest Catholic religious orders, goes beyond the humanitarian and social aspects, which certainly remain a priority, and also embraces our ancient traditions such as the common commitment to the protection of the Christian minority in the Middle East”, explained the Lieutenant of the Grand Master, Friar Giacomo Dalla Torre. “I would like to recall in this sense the Order’s participation in the commemorations of the centenary of the Armenian genocide in 2015 in Yerevan and, a few days earlier, in the celebrations during which His Holiness Pope Francis spoke for the first time of the extermination of Armenians as the first genocide of the 20th century”. The Armenian President, for his part, stressed that “today’s visit represents a mutual desire to maintain the level of dialogue “high”. The Order of Malta’s humanitarian commitment in the world is worthy of the highest praise. It is through the promotion of shared values that the world can be defended from the spread of xenophobia”.

Sargsyan’s agenda also includes a meeting with top Italian state leaders, who are currently engaged in consultations for the formation of a new government: the President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella, the President of the Senate Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati and the President of the Chamber, Roberto Fico.

Fri, 04/06/2018 - 11:55
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