A Friend to the Armenian Church: The Centenary of Pope John Paul II (1920-2005)

The Eastern Diocese remembers the lofty spirit of the late Pope John Paul II, born 100 years ago today, on May 18, 1920. During his long pontificate (1978-2005), Pope John Paul II was a galvanizing figure on the world stage, admired for his fearless Christian faith and his deep humanity. He was also a great friend of the Armenian people, who showed the greatest respect for our history of martyrdom and the exemplary spiritual achievements of our church. In Rome and Armenia, he greeted two Catholicoi of All Armenians with brotherly affection, and conferred his heartfelt blessing on our homeland.

Below are relics of two such meetings. The first is the Common Declaration of 1996, issued by Pope John Paul II and Catholicos Karekin I, during the latter’s visit to the Vatican. The second is a montage of extracts from press reports of the Pope’s 2001 visit to Armenia, the 1700th anniversary of Armenia’s conversion to Christianity, at the invitation of Catholicos Karekin II.

May God bless the memories of the departed Pope John Paul II and Catholicos Karekin I, and may He grant strength to their successors, Catholicos Karekin II, Pope Francis, and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Pictured above: At Holy Etchmiadzin, from 2001, Pope John Paul II and Catholicos Karekin II pay respects at the grave of Catholicos Karekin I.

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Common Declaration Between Pope John Paul II and Catholicos Karekin I

Rome | 13 December 1996

As they bring to a close their solemn meeting which they are deeply convinced has been of particular significance for the on-going relations between the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church, His Holiness John Paul II, Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Catholic Church, and His Holiness Karekin I, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians,give humble thanks to the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who has enabled them to meet in His love for prayer together, for a fruitful discussion of their common desire to search out a more perfect unity in the Holy Spirit, and for an exchange of views about how their Churches may give a more effective witness to the Gospel in a world approaching a new millennium in the history of salvation.

Pope John Paul II and Catholicos Karekin I recognize the deep spiritual communion which already unites them and the bishops, clergy and lay faithful of their Churches. It is a communion which finds its roots in the common faith in the holy and life-giving Trinity proclaimed by the apostles and transmitted down the centuries by the many Church Fathers, Church doctors, bishops, priests, and martyrs who have followed them. They rejoice in the fact that recent developments of ecumenical relationships and theological discussions carried out in the spirit of Christian love and fellowship have dispelled many misunderstandings inherited from the controversies and dissensions of the past. Such dialogues and encounters have prepared a healthy situation of mutual understanding and recovery of the deeper spiritual communion based on the common faith in the Holy Trinity that they have been given through the Gospel of Christ and in the Holy Tradition of the Church.

They particularly welcome the great advance that their Churches have registered in their common search for their unity in Christ, the word of God made flesh. Perfect God as to His divinity, perfect man as to His humanity, His divinity is united in Him to His humanity in the Person of the Only-begotten Son of God, in a union which is real, perfect, without confusion, without alteration, without division, without any form of separation.

The reality of this common faith in Jesus Christ and in the same succession of apostolic ministry has at times been obscured or ignored. Linguistic, cultural and political factors have immensely contributed towards the theological divergences that have found expression in their terminology of formulating their doctrines. His Holiness John Paul II and His Holiness Karekin I have expressed their determined conviction that because of the fundamental common faith in God and in Jesus Christ, the controversies and unhappy divisions which sometimes have followed upon the divergent ways in expressing it, as a result of the present declaration, should not continue to influence the life and witness of the Church today.

They humbly declare before God their sorrow for these controversies and dissensions and their determination to remove from the mind and memory of their Churches the bitterness, mutual recriminations and even hatred which have sometimes manifested themselves in the past, and may even today cast a shadow over the truly fraternal and genuinely Christian relations between leaders and the faithful of both Churches, especially as these have developed in recent times.

The communion already existing between the two Churches and the hope for and commitment to the recovery of full communion between them should become factors of motivation for further contact, more regular and substantial dialogue, leading to a greater degree of mutual understanding and recovery of the communality of their faith and service.

Pope John Paul II and Catholicos Karekin I give their blessing and pastoral support to the further development of existing contacts and to new manifestations of that dialogue of charity between their respective pastors and faithful which will bear fruit in the fields of common action on the pastoral, catechetical, social and intellectual levels.

Such a dialogue is particularly imperative in these present times when the Churches are faced with new challenges to their witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ arising out of the rapidly changing situations in the modern world so deeply affected by an extreme secularistic and secularizing pace of life and culture. It requires closer collaboration, mutual confidence and a greater degree of concern for common action. It presumes and requires an attitude of service which is not self-seeking and which is characterized by a mutual respect for the fidelity of the faithful to their own churches and Christian traditions.

They appeal to their clergy and laity to carry out more actively and effectively their full cooperation in all fields of diaconia,and to become agents of reconciliation, peace and justice, struggling for the true recognition of human rights and dedicating themselves to the support of all those who are suffering and are in spiritual and material need throughout the world.

John Paul II and Karekin I express a particular pastoral concern for the Armenian people, both those living in their historic motherland where freedom and independence were once more recovered and re­established recently through the creation of the new Independent State of Armenia, those living in Nagorno Karabagh in need of permanent peace, and those who live in a state of world-wide diaspora. Amid upheavals and tragedies, especially during this century, these people have remained faithful to the apostolic faith, the faith of martyrs and confessors, the faith of million of unnamed believers for whom Jesus Christ, the Son of God incarnate and Saviour of the world, has been the foundation of their hope, and whose Spirit has guided them across the centuries. As they approach the seventeenth centenary of the official establishment of the Church in Armenia, may they receive the special blessings of the Triune God for peace with justice and for a renewed dedication to witnessing faithfully to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Karekin I                 John Paul II

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On the 1700th Anniversary of Armenia’s Conversion to Christianity

Below are extracts from press articles published during Pope John Paul II’s visit to Armenia to honor the 1700th anniversary, September 20-27, 2001.

An Emotional Highpoint
Press Office of the Eastern Diocese

Pope John Paul II arrived with his entourage at Armenia’s Zvartnotz Airport on Tuesday, September 25, at one o’clock in the afternoon. He was greeted there by His Holiness Karekin II and President Kocharian, along with a contingent of bishops, government officials and diplomats…

On Wednesday, September 26 came the emotional highpoint of the visit: the Pope’s visit to the Armenian Genocide Memorial at Dzidzernagapert. Those who have been there know that Dzidzernagapert is an awesome sight, a place of solemn silence, where the eternal flame burns in memory of our martyred people alongside a majestic spire that draws our eyes and thoughts upward, to the heavens. The Pope, too, was clearly moved by the Memorial. As the hokehankisd (requiem) service began, Pope John Paul II placed a wreath before the eternal flame, and subsequently offered a special prayer in which he invoked the “medz yeghern”— “great calamity,” the Armenian term for the Genocide.… Before departing from the Memorial, the Pope blessed a young tree, which will be planted at Dzidzernagapert as a reminder of his visit, and as an enduring testimony to his recognition of the Genocide.

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“We Are Appalled By The Terrible Violence Done To The Armenian People”
L’Osservatore Romano, official newspaper of the Vatican

On Wednesday, 26 September, [His Holiness Pope John Paul II] visited the Dzidzernagapert memorial in Yerevan and paid a moving tribute to the 1.5 million Armenians who were killed in the early 20th century. The Armenian Monument, Dzidzernagapert, was constructed in 1965 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Armenian massacre. The monument is a towering granite needle flanked by an eternal flame. Twelve imposing pylons, representing the twelve provinces where the Armenians were massacred, surround the memorial flame inside the fortress. The flame burns to represent the Armenian spirit, which can never be extinguished. The monument, which means “Citadel of Swallows,” is named for a bird that always returns to its nest, even if its home has been destroyed. The needle-shaped shaft beside it represents the rebirth of the Armenian people. The Holy Father left a red rose at the eternal flame. As many as 1.5 million Armenians died in the persecutions that lasted from 1915 to 1923. In his prayer, the Holy Father begged the Lord to listen “to the lament that rises from this place, to the call of the dead from the depths of the medz yeghérn.” The Holy Father used the term “Medz Yeghérn,” which is usually translated as the great evil or the great crime. In his prayer he deplored the violence that continues in our world. “We are appalled by the terrible violence done to the Armenian people, and dismayed that the world still knows such inhumanity.”

The text of the Pope’s prayer follows below:

O Judge of the living and the dead, have mercy on us!
Listen, O Lord, to the lament that rises from this place,
to the call of the dead from the depths of the Medz Yeghérn,
the cry of innocent blood that pleads like the blood of Abel,
like Rachel weeping for her children because they are no more.

Listen, Lord, to the voice of the Bishop of Rome,
echoing the plea of his Predecessor Pope Benedict XV,
when in 1915 he raised his voice in defence of
“the sorely afflicted Armenian people
brought to the brink of annihilation”.

Look upon the people of this land
who put their trust in you so long ago,
who have passed through the great tribulation
and never failed in their faithfulness to you.

Wipe away every tear from their eyes
and grant that their agony in the twentieth century
will yield a harvest of life that endures for ever.

We are appalled by the terrible violence done to the Armenian people,
and dismayed that the world still knows such inhumanity.
But renewing our hope in your promise, we implore, O Lord,
rest for the dead in the peace which knows no end,
and the healing of still open wounds through the power of your love.

Our soul is longing for you, Lord, more than the watchman for daybreak,
as we wait for the fullness of redemption won on the Cross,
for the light of Easter which is the dawn of invincible life,
for the glory of the new Jerusalem where death shall be no more.
O Judge of the living and the dead, have mercy on us all!

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Pope John Paul II Pays Respects to the Memory of Martyrs of Armenian Genocide
Holy Etchmiadzin Information Services

On September 26, His Holiness Pope John Paul II, Patriarch of the West and Bishop of Rome, Head of the Roman Catholic Church, accompanied by His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, paid a visit to Dzidzernagert, the memorial monument dedicated to the martyrs of Armenians’ Genocide, in 1915, to bow and to pay tribute of respect to the innocent victims’ memory.

The Holy Father placed a floral wreath at the memorial monument, and a requiem service, presided over by the Holy Father and the Armenian Pontiff, was held.

“We are appalled by the terrible by the terrible violence done to the Armenian people, and dismayed that the world still knows such inhumanity,” said the Pope in his prayer to God, asking “to wipe away every tear from the Armenian people’s eyes and grant that their agony in the twentieth century will yield a harvest of life that endures for ever.” The Holy Father noted that his prayer is echoing the plea of his predecessor Pope Benedict XV, when in 1915 he raised his voice in defense of “the sorely afflicted Armenian people brought to the brink off annihilation.”

Upon the blessing of the Holy Father a tree was planted, and from now on the newly planted fir-tree will always remind about the Pope’s visit to the memorial monument Dzidzernagert.

Celebrated Armenian singer Charles Aznavour also attended the ceremony and by his performance of the song “Ave Maria” deeply moved the people in attendance.

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Extracts from the “Common Declaration” of H.H. Karekin II and H.H. John Paul II
Holy Etchmiadzin Information Services

Holy Etchmiadzin, Republic of Armenia | 27 September 2001

The celebration of the 1700th anniversary of the proclamation of Christianity as the religion of Armenia has brought us together—John Paul II, Bishop of Rome and Pastor of the Catholic Church, and Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians—and we thank God for giving us this joyous opportunity to join again in common prayer, in praise of his all-holy Name. Blessed be the Holy Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—now and forever.

As we commemorate this wondrous event, we remember with reverence, gratitude and love the great confessor of our Lord Jesus Christ, Saint Gregory the Illuminator, as well as his collaborators and successors. They enlightened not only the people of Armenia but also others in the neighbouring countries of the Caucasus. Thanks to their witness, dedication and example, the Armenian people in A.D. 301 were bathed in the divine light and earnestly turned to Christ as the Truth, the Life, and the Way to salvation.

They worshipped God as their Father, professed Christ as their Lord and invoked the Holy Spirit as their Sanctifier; they loved the apostolic universal Church as their Mother. Christ’s supreme commandment, to love God above all and our neighbour as ourselves, became a way of life for the Armenians of old. Endowed with great faith, they chose to bear witness to the Truth and accept death when necessary, in order to share eternal life. Martyrdom for the love of Christ thus became a great legacy of many generations of Armenians. 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. We thank God for the fact that Christianity in Armenia has survived the adversities of the past seventeen centuries, and that the Armenian Church is now free to carry out her mission of proclaiming the Good News in the modern Republic of Armenia and in many areas near and far where Armenian communities are present.

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