Of Politics and the Pope

By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach Special to the Mirror-Spectator, 19 may 2016
VATICAN — Pope Francis is preparing to visit first Armenia, then Azerbaijan and Georgia. With this visit, he is trying to bring peace and hope to a region that has been recently beset by troubles. He will visit Armenia June 24-26, and in the autumn, go to Georgia and Azerbaijan. According to the program released by the Vatican press office on May 13, the Pontiff’s visit will be apostolic, but will also include political talks. On June 24, after prayers at the Mother Cathedral of Holy Echmiadizin, with greetings by the Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II and the Pope, he will pay a courtesy visit to President Sargsyan in the Presidential Palace. Then he will meet with civil authorities and the Diplomatic Corps in the same venue, and will deliver a speech. Following this event, he will hold a private meeting with the Catholicos at his residence.
The second day, June 25, will begin with a visit to Tzitzernakaberd Memorial Complex, after which he will go to Gumri. There he is scheduled to celebrate Holy Mass in Vartanants Square and then to visit the Holy Martyrs Armenian Catholic Cathedral.
On his return to Yerevan, he will participate in an Ecumenical Encounter and Prayer for Peace in Republic Square. On the third  day, Sunday June 26, he will meet with Catholic Bishops of Armenia in the Apostolic palace at Echmiadzin, then will participate in the Divine Liturgy in the Cathedral, during which the Catholicos will deliver the homily, and the Pope, greetings.
An ecumenical lunch is planned, with the Catholicos, archibishops and bishops of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
There will follow a meeting with delegates and benefactors of the Apostolic Armenian Church, and a Joint Declaration will be signed. His last visit will be to the Khor Virap Monastery, at the foot of Mount Ararat near the Turkish border, for prayer.
While it is impossible to know much about the content of the events, statements and declarations in his busy schedule, it is clear from the program that recognition of the genocide, ecumenical relations and perspectives for overcoming conflict with Turkey (and Azerbaijan) are on the agenda. Based on past performance, the Pope can be expected to speak out. As the Italians would put it, he is a person who “does not have hairs on his tongue.” No wonder, then, that his visit is awaited with such hopeful expectation.
In remarks made to the Catholic News Agency, the Armenian Ambassador to the Holy See Mikayel Minasyan stressed the importance of the visit for Armenians, coming as it does at the end of the centenary of the genocide and during the Year of Mercy proclaimed by the Pope. “The Armenians made the whole world see what it is to overcome an injustice,” he said. “They gave the possibility to the world to understand what a genocide is, what the denial of genocide is,” and recalled that the very term was coined on the basis of studies made of the Armenian genocide. The centenary, he said, had also been an occasion on which to recognize those who have supported the Armenians. Pope Francis stood out among them last year, when he offered a mass for the faithful of the Armenian Rite, in commemoration of the victims on April 12.
Ambassador Minasyan highlighted the historic significance of that mass, in the Pope’s “calling things as they are, creating another term, ‘ecumenism of blood.‘ An ecumenism,” he explained, “founded on blood, because the Armenians were exterminated also because they were Christians.” Minasyan stated, “Certainly Pope Francis made one of the most fundamental steps in celebrating the Mass in St. Peter’s inviting the hierarchy of the Apostolic Armenian Church and of the Armenian Catholic Church, and proclaiming St. Gregory Narek as a doctor of the Universal Church.” Minasyan said the Armenians were anticipating the Pope‘s visit “full of joy.” The Armenian people, he said, “are waiting with great excitement to manifest their own remembrance. Pope Francis is going to Armenia to fulfill this visit in full respect and love for the Armenian people and for their history.
And also,” he added, “the recognition of what the Armenian Republic represents now in that region.” Minasyan noted that the timing of the visit is particularly meaningful, in light of continuing denial of the genocide by Turkish authorities. “We are not closing this year,” he said, “turning a page. We are opening another book and this new book is titled, ‘the fight against denialism,’ and it is yet to be seen.” He considers recognition particulalry important considering what the genocide meant for the Middle East. “Now we see that in the past 100 years the quantity, speaking in percentages, of Christians is drastically diminishing. In the past five years, it has been something truly dramatic,” he said. “I don‘t want to put it into a box, but it all started with the Armenian Genocide.”