VATICAN CITY (A.W.)—Pope Francis joined His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians; His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia; as well as outgoing Armenian President Serge Sarkisian on Thursday, for the inauguration and blessing of the statue of St. Gregory of Narek in the Vatican Gardens.
Other high ranking officials, including the representatives of several churches, were present at the ceremony.
Back in April 2015, the Pope held Solemn Mass for the Centenary of the Armenian Genocide, during which he remembered “the first genocide of the 20th century,” spoke about the consequences of forgetting and denial, and proclaimed the Armenian St. Gregory of Narek a Doctor of the Church.
The Roman Catholic Church recognizes only 36 doctors of the church, including Augustine of Hippo, John Chrysostom, Thomas Aquinas, and Narek—who is remembered by Catholics every Feb. 27. The title of Doctor of the Universal Church is one of the church’s highest honors—reserved for people whose writings have greatly served the universal church.
St. Gregory lived around 950 to 1005 and is regarded as one of the most significant figures of medieval Armenian religious thought. The saint’s The Book of Lamentations—commonly referred to simply as the Narek—is a mystical prayer poem in 95 sections, and is considered his most important work.
In June 2016, Pope Francis traveled to Armenia and honored the martyrs of the Armenian Genocide, which he called “the first of the deplorable series of catastrophes of the past century.” The pontiff also visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex and Museum-Institute, where he singed the guestbook with the following message: “I pray here with sorrow in my heart, that there might never again be tragedies like this one, that humanity might never forget, and might know how to overcome evil with goodness; may God grant to the beloved Armenian people and to the whole world peace and consolation. May God preserve the memory of the Armenian people. The memory must neither be watered down nor forgotten; memory is the fount of peace and of the future.”
According to the Vatican’s official press service, a copy of the same statue is currently in production and will be placed in the gardens of the Cathedral of Etchmiadzin— the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church—where an inauguration ceremony will be held later this year.
Earlier on April 5, President Sarkisian held a one-on-one meeting with Pope Francis. During the meeting, the outgoing Armenian President thanked the Pope for his dedication and care for the bilateral relations between Armenia and Vatican. The President said that this was the fifth such meeting with the pontiff, and noted that each has been a great honor.
Both Pope Francis and Sarkisian expressed willingness to continue developing and enhancing relations between Armenia and Vatican, after which the Armenian President gifted a silver model of the St. Gayane Church to the Pope. The Pope, in turn, gave the marble copy of a sculpture depicting the Holy Family kept in the Vatican museums, as well as copies of his latest three books.
The pontiff also held a one-on-one meeting with His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, during which, the Catholicos thanked Pope Francis for officially recognizing the Armenian Genocide and for his ongoing support of Lebanon, where the Cilicia Catholicosate is situated.
According to the press service of the Cilicia Catholicosate, Catholicos Aram brought up the number of issues during the meeting, including the need for consensus on a single date among all Churches for the celebration of Eastern; the need to stop divisions within Churches and between them; the importance of interfaith dialogue and understanding, especially between Muslims and Christians; and the need for the Vatican to pay close attention to the dwindling Christian population in the Middle East.
In turn, Pope Francis noted that the Vatican would work on the matters, considering the relevance and importance of the mentioned issues.
Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America; Archbishop Kegham Khatcherian, Prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Greece; and father Bedros Manuelian, Head of Information Department of the Cilicia Catholicosate were a part of the Catholicos’ delegation.