POPE FRANCIS, THE ARMENIANS AND TURKEY
Following are some of the headlines you may have seen after Pope Francis’ homily at Mass Sunday for the faithful of the Armenian Rite in commemoration of the centenary of the “Medz Yeghern” (the “Great Crime”) – the massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman government in what is now Turkey:
AP: Pope sparks Turkish ire by referring to Armenian ‘genocide’ on centenary of slaughter – Deutsche Welle: Pope’s move could strain diplomatic ties with Turkey – Financial Times: Pope Francis calls Armenian slaughter genocide – BBC: Turkey anger at Pope Francis Armenian ‘genocide’ claim – Reuters: Turkey recalls Vatican ambassador after pope’s genocide comments
What has been variously termed the Armenian Massacres, Armenian Martyrdom, Armenian Holocaust and “Medz Yeghern” (Armenian for the “Great Crime”) has been described as the Ottoman government’s systematic extermination of its minority Armenian subjects inside their historic homeland which lies within the territory constituting the present-day Republic of Turkey.
Following World War I, the extensive territories and numerous peoples that had previously comprised the Ottoman Empire were divided into several states. With the 1919-1922 Turkish War of Independence, the modern day Republic of Turkey, the successor state to the Ottoman Empire, was established.
Turkey today denies that what happened to Armenians can be called “genocide” and says that the number cited – 1 to 1.5 million Armenians killed – is exaggerated.
Here, in part, is what Pope Francis said on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 12, 2015 in his Message to the Armenian people, quoting St. John Paul (full Message below):
In the past century our human family has lived through three massive and unprecedented tragedies. The first, which is widely considered “the first genocide of the twentieth century” (JOHN PAUL II and KAREKIN II, Common Declaration , Etchmiadzin, 27 September 2001), struck your own Armenian people, the first Christian nation, as well as Catholic and Orthodox Syrians, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Greeks. Bishops and priests, religious, women and men, the elderly and even defenceless children and the infirm were murdered. The remaining two were perpetrated by Nazism and Stalinism. And more recently there have been other mass killings, like those in Cambodia, Rwanda, Burundi and Bosnia. It seems that humanity is incapable of putting a halt to the shedding of innocent blood. It seems that the enthusiasm generated at the end of the Second World War has dissipated and is now disappearing. It seems that the human family has refused to learn from its mistakes caused by the law of terror, so that today too there are those who attempt to eliminate others with the help of a few and with the complicit silence of others who simply stand by. We have not yet learned that “war is madness”, “senseless slaughter” (cf. Homily in Redipuglia , 13 September 2014).
And here is the original paragraph from the Common Declaration of His Holiness John Paul II and His Holiness Karekin II at Holy Etchmiadzin (Republic of Armenia – September 27, 2001) in which the word ‘genocide’ was used:
The most valuable treasure that one generation could bequeath to the next was fidelity to the Gospel, so that, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, the young would become as resolute as their ancestors in bearing witness to the Truth. 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. These innocents who were butchered in vain are not canonized, but many among them were certainly confessors and martyrs for the name of Christ. We pray for the repose of their souls, and urge the faithful never to lose sight of the meaning of their sacrifice.
Click here to read the full text of the Common Declaration by John Paul II and Karekin II:http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/speeches/2001/september/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_20010927_decl-jp-ii-karekin-ii.html
Pope Francis did, as you see, use the word “genocide” but not all the media reports made it clear that he was quoting Pope John Paul II and Catholicos Karekin II.
Following are the Vatican Radio reports of the Holy Father’s homily on Divine Mercy Sunday and his Message to the Armenian faithful who came to Rome for Sunday’s Mass, including the president of Armenia.
POPE UNDERSCORES DIVINE MERCY IN MASS FOR ARMENIANS
(Vatican Radio) On Divine Mercy Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter, Pope Francis celebrated Solemn Mass for the Centenary of the Armenian Martyrdom. During the Liturgy, the Holy Father proclaimed the great Armenian Saint Gregory of Narek a Doctor of the Church. Pope Francis processed into the basilica flanked by the Catholicos Karekin II and Catholicos Aram I of the Armenian Apostolic Church, with the Patriarch Catholicos Nerses Bedros XIX a few paces ahead. Patriarch Nerses concelebrated Mass with the Holy Father. (photos: news.va)
Following is the Pope’s homily:
Saint John, who was in the Upper Room with the other disciples on the evening of the first day after the Sabbath, tells us that Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you!” and he showed them his hands and his side (Jn 20:19-20); he showed them his wounds. And in this way they realized that it was not an apparition: it was truly him, the Lord, and they were filled with joy.
On the eighth day Jesus came once again into the Upper Room and showed his wounds to Thomas, so that he could touch them as he had wished to, in order to believe and thus become himself a witness to the Resurrection.
To us also, on this Sunday which Saint John Paul II wished to dedicate to Divine Mercy, the Lord shows us, through the Gospel, his wounds. They are wounds of mercy. It is true: the wounds of Jesus are wounds of mercy.
Jesus invites us to behold these wounds, to touch them as Thomas did, to heal our lack of belief. Above all, he invites us to enter into the mystery of these wounds, which is the mystery of his merciful love.
Through these wounds, as in a light-filled opening, we can see the entire mystery of Christ and of God: his Passion, his earthly life – filled with compassion for the weak and the sick – his incarnation in the womb of Mary. And we can retrace the whole history of salvation: the prophecies – especially about the Servant of the Lord, the Psalms, the Law and the Covenant; to the liberation from Egypt, to the first Passover and to the blood of the slaughtered lambs; and again from the Patriarchs to Abraham, and then all the way back to Abel, whose blood cried out from the earth. All of this we can see in the wounds of Jesus, crucified and risen; with Mary, in her Magnificat, we can perceive that, “His mercy extends from generation to generation” (cf. Lk 1:50).
Faced with the tragic events of human history we can feel crushed at times, asking ourselves, “Why?” Humanity’s evil can appear in the world like an abyss, a great void: empty of love, empty of goodness, empty of life. And so we ask: how can we fill this abyss? For us it is impossible; only God can fill this emptiness that evil brings to our hearts and to human history. It is Jesus, God made man, who died on the Cross and who fills the abyss of sin with the depth of his mercy.
Saint Bernard, in one of his commentaries on the Canticle of Canticles (Sermon 61, 3-5: Opera Omnia, 2, 150-151), reflects precisely on the mystery of the Lord’s wounds, using forceful and even bold expressions which we do well to repeat today. He says that “through these sacred wounds we can see the secret of [Christ’s] heart, the great mystery of love, the sincerity of his mercy with which he visited us from on high”.
Brothers and sisters, behold the way which God has opened for us to finally go out from our slavery to sin and death, and thus enter into the land of life and peace. Jesus, crucified and risen, is the way and his wounds are especially full of mercy.
The saints teach us that the world is changed beginning with the conversion of one’s own heart, and that this happens through the mercy of God. And so, whether faced with my own sins or the great tragedies of the world, “my conscience would be distressed, but it would not be in turmoil, for I would recall the wounds of the Lord: ‘he was wounded for our iniquities’ (Is 53:5). What sin is there so deadly that it cannot be pardoned by the death of Christ?” (ibid.).
Keeping our gaze on the wounds of the Risen Jesus, we can sing with the Church: “His love endures forever” (Ps 117:2); eternal is his mercy. And with these words impressed on our hearts, let us go forth along the paths of history, led by the hand of our Lord and Saviour, our life and our hope.
POPE FRANCIS’ MESSAGE TO ARMENIANS
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis delivered a Message to all Armenians on Sunday, presenting President Serž Azati Sargsyan of Armenia, Catholicos Karekin II, Catholicos Aram I, and Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX, with copies at the end of Mass marking the centenary of the Medz Yeghern in which more than 1 million Armenians under Ottoman rule were driven from their homes, dispossessed and killed. Below, please find the full text of the Message in its official English translation.
Dear Armenian Brothers and Sisters,
A century has passed since that horrific massacre which was a true martyrdom of your people, in which many innocent people died as confessors and martyrs for the name of Christ (cf. John Paul II and Karekin II, Common Declaration, Etchmiadzin, 27 September 2001). Even today, there is not an Armenian family untouched by the loss of loved ones due to that tragedy: it truly was “Metz Yeghern”, the “Great Evil”, as it is known by Armenians. On this anniversary, I feel a great closeness to your people and I wish to unite myself spiritually to the prayers which rise up from your hearts, your families and your communities.
Today is a propitious occasion for us to pray together, as we proclaim Saint Gregory of Narek a Doctor of the Church. I wish to express my deep gratitude for the presence here today of His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, and His Beatitude Nerses Bedros XIX, Patriarch of Cilicia of Armenian Catholics.
Saint Gregory of Narek, a monk of the tenth century, knew how to express the sentiments of your people more than anyone. He gave voice to the cry, which became a prayer, of a sinful and sorrowful humanity, oppressed by the anguish of its powerlessness, but illuminated by the splendour of God’s love and open to the hope of his salvific intervention, which is capable of transforming all things. “Through his strength I wait with certain expectation believing with unwavering hope that… I shall be saved by the Lord’s mighty hand and… that I will see the Lord himself in his mercy and compassion and receive the legacy of heaven” (Saint Gregory of Narek, Book of Lamentations, XII).
Your Christian identity is indeed ancient, dating from the year 301, when Saint Gregory the Illuminator guided Armenia to conversion and baptism. You were the first among nations in the course of the centuries to embrace the Gospel of Christ. That spiritual event indelibly marked the Armenian people, as well as its culture and history, in which martyrdom holds a preeminent place, as attested to symbolically by the sacrificial witness of Saint Vardan and his companions in the fifth century.
Your people, illuminated by Christ’s light and by his grace, have overcome many trials and sufferings, animated by the hope which comes from the Cross (cf. Rom 8:31-39). As Saint John Paul II said to you, “Your history of suffering and martyrdom is a precious pearl, of which the universal Church is proud. Faith in Christ, man’s Redeemer, infused you with an admirable courage on your path, so often like that of the Cross, on which you have advanced with determination, intent on preserving your identity as a people and as believers” (Homily, 21 November 1987).
This faith also accompanied and sustained your people during the tragic experience one hundred years ago “in what is generally referred to as the first genocide of the twentieth century” (John Paul II and Karekin II, Common Declaration, Etchmiadzin, 27 September 2001). Pope Benedict XV, who condemned the First World War as a “senseless slaughter” (AAS, IX , 429), did everything in his power until the very end to stop it, continuing the efforts at mediation already begun by Pope Leo XIII when confronted with the “deadly events” of 1894-96. For this reason, Pope Benedict XV wrote to Sultan Mehmed V, pleading that the many innocents be saved (cf. Letter of 10 September 1915) and, in the Secret Consistory of 6 December 1915, he declared with great dismay, “Miserrima Armenorum gens ad interitum prope ducitur” (AAS, VII , 510).
It is the responsibility not only of the Armenian people and the universal Church to recall all that has taken place, but of the entire human family, so that the warnings from this tragedy will protect us from falling into a similar horror, which offends against God and human dignity. Today too, in fact, these conflicts at times degenerate into unjustifiable violence, stirred up by exploiting ethnic and religious differences. All who are Heads of State and of International Organizations are called to oppose such crimes with a firm sense of duty, without ceding to ambiguity or compromise.
May this sorrowful anniversary become for all an occasion of humble and sincere reflection, and may every heart be open to forgiveness, which is the source of peace and renewed hope. Saint Gregory of Narek, an extraordinary interpreter of the human soul, offers words which are prophetic for us: “I willingly blame myself with myriad accounts of all the incurable sins, from our first forefather through the end of his generations in all eternity, I charge myself with all these voluntarily” (Book of Lamentations, LXXII). How striking is his sense of universal solidarity! How small we feel before the greatness of his invocations: “Remember, [Lord,]… those of the human race who are our enemies as well, and for their benefit accord them pardon and mercy… Do not destroy those who persecute me, but reform them, root out the vile ways of this world, and plant the good in me and them” (ibid., LXXXIII).
May God grant that the people of Armenia and Turkey take up again the path of reconciliation, and may peace also spring forth in Nagorno Karabakh. Despite conflicts and tensions, Armenians and Turks have lived long periods of peaceful coexistence in the past and, even in the midst of violence, they have experienced times of solidarity and mutual help. Only in this way will new generations open themselves to a better future and will the sacrifice of so many become seeds of justice and peace.
For us Christians, may this be above all a time of deep prayer. Through the redemptive power of Christ’s sacrifice, may the blood which has been shed bring about the miracle of the full unity of his disciples. In particular, may it strengthen the bonds of fraternal friendship which already unite the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church. The witness of many defenceless brothers and sisters who sacrificed their lives for the faith unites the diverse confessions: it is the ecumenism of blood, which led Saint John Paul II to celebrate all the martyrs of the twentieth century together during the Jubilee of 2000.
Our celebration today also is situated in this spiritual and ecclesial context. Representatives of our two Churches are participating in this event to which many of our faithful throughout the world are united spiritually, in a sign which reflects on earth the perfect communion that exists between the blessed souls in heaven. With brotherly affection, I assure you of my closeness on the occasion of the canonization ceremony of the martyrs of the Armenian Apostolic Church, to be held this coming 23 April in the Cathedral of Etchmiadzin, and on the occasion of the commemorations to be held in Antelias in July.
I entrust these intentions to the Mother of God, in the words of Saint Gregory of Narek:
“O Most Pure of Virgins, first among the blessed,
“Mother of the unshakeable edifice of the Church,
“Mother of the immaculate Word of God,
“Taking refuge beneath your boundless wings which grant us the protection of your intercession,
“We lift up our hands to you, and with unquestioned hope we believe that we are saved”.
(Panegyric of the Theotokos)