Highlights of Pope’s visit to Armenia
Pope Francis’ visit to Armenia was a huge success as werehis previous visits to other countries, generating large amounts of strongly positive media coverage and drawing warm reactions from locals, despite the fact that Catholics are only a small minority here.
When the Pope arrived, the first thing he did was to visit Catholicos Karekin II, head of the Armenian Apostolic Church at the 4th-century Armenian Apostolic Cathedral of the Holy Etchmiadzin, the oldest state-built church in the world as a clear sign of his respect.. The pope and Karekin bowed to kiss a cross and Book of the Gospels before embracing in a sign of peace and praying together.
Francis later paid a courtesy visit to the President of the Republic at the Presidential Palace, where he also met with civil authorities and the diplomatic corps.
On Saturday morning, Pope Francis went to the Tsitsernakaberd genocide memorial complex outside Yerevan, where he saw the Wall of Memory and the eternal flame recalling the 1.5 million victims. Francis also met a small group of descendants of survivors who were sheltered by Pope Benedict XV in 1915 at the pope’s summer residence of Castel Gandolfo outside Rome..
The Pope was accompanied by Karekin, with whom he took part in a brief prayer service as well as President Serzh Sargsyan of Armenia and his wife, Rita. A group of soldiers walked ahead of them carrying a yellow floral wreath, which was placed in front of the memorial.
After a moment of silence, the Pope appeared visibly moved as he stood with his head lowered for several moments of silent prayer. He then joined Karekin and Sargsyan in carrying small bunches of flowers down a set of steps to an eternal flame inside the memorial.
Before leaving, Pope Francis blessed a pine tree being planted in honor of his visit and wrote in a book of remembrance: “Memory must neither be watered down nor forgotten; memory is a source of peace and of the future.”
Afterwards Francis took a short plane-ride (75 miles) from Yerevan to Gyumri, home to the largest Catholic community in the country. Pope Francis celebrated his only public Mass in Armenia for in the Republic Square of Gyumri, Armenia’s second largest city with a population of 150,000 people. The city had recently been largely rebuilt after a 1988 earthquake devastated the region, and killed over 60,000 people.
Pope Francis referred to the earthquake in his homily, in which he spoke on the theme of rebuilding. He challenged the faithful to consider not only what God wants them to build in their lives, but the foundation upon which they should build. Francis suggested three ways of building a solid foundation: memory, faith, and merciful love. As he spoke, some young people in the square held up high a banner welcoming him to 301—a the year when their country became the first Christian country in the world. That is an essential part of the memory Francis was referring to in his homily.
Only 10 percent of Armenia’s3 million people are Catholics, but nevertheless 50,000 people came to this square to attend his Latin rite Mass and receive his blessing. They were joined not only by several hundred from nearby Georgia and Russia.
At the end of Mass, Francis invited Karekin II to join him on the pope mobile, and then together they blessed the faithful as the drove among them in the square to scenes of great joy and enthusiasm. After mass Francis visited the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral of the Seven Wounds and the Holy Martyrs Armenian Catholic Cathedral in Gyumri.
Later that evening Pope Francis held an Ecumenical Encounter and Prayer for Peace in Yerevan’s Republic Square, during which he urged Armenia’s youth to be active peacemakers in a world “suffering from persecutions and conflict.” At the end of the service, Pope Francis and Karekin watered seedlings of a vine planted by young Armenians in a model of Noah’s Ark.
Pope Francis began the day with a private Mass in a chapel prepared for the occasion in the Apostolic Palace of Etchmiadzin where he was staying during his visit to Armenia. Following Mass, he had a private meeting with Armenia’s 14 Catholic bishops and 12 priests before heading to San Tiridate Square to participate in the the Divine Liturgy celebrated by his Oriental Orthodox hosts.
Later Francis had lunch in the Apostolic Palace with the Catholicos, archbishops and bishops of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Armenian Catholic bishops and the papal entourage.
Pope Francis’s last engagement was a visit to Khor Virap monastery not far from Armenia’s closed border with Turkey. One of Armenia’s most sacred sites, Khor Virap lies in the shadow of Mount Ararat,where Noah is said to have landed his ark.
In the evening the Pope flew back to Rome from Yerevan’s international airport.During the flight he gave a press conference in which he spoke on a variety of issues, including the Armenian genocide and the Church’s relation to homosexuals. Referring to Armenia‘s future, Francis spoke about his hopes and prayers for justice and peace, He felt encouraged that leaders are working towards reconciliation, particularly with Turkey and with Azerbaijan, which he will visit later this year.