(Vatican Radio) Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Oriental Churches has just returned from a visit to Armenia during which he met with President Serzh Sargsyan to highlight the importance of good relations with the Holy See. He also thanked the Armenian people for the welcome they have offered to thousands of refugees fleeing from the conflict in Syria.
Philippa HItchen reports….
During the meeting with the Vatican delegation, the Armenian president stressed his gratitude for the Mass that Pope Francis celebrated in St Peter’s Basilica last April 12th to commemorate the victims of Metz Yeghern, the massacre by Ottoman authorities a century ago.
During the September 25th to 28th visit to Armenia, the Cardinal had an audience with the Catholicos or leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Karekin II, bringing Pope Francis’ greetings to all the Armenian people. He also attended a Divine Liturgy and an ecumenical prayer service in Etchmiadzin Cathedral, the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church and took part in an encounter with leaders of the other Christian communities in the Caucasian country.
Cardinal Sandri also visited a community of the Sisters of Charity in the capital Yerevan, set up by Mother Teresa of Calcutta to care for abandoned and sick children.
On the final morning of his visit, the Cardinal led a Vatican delegation to pray at the Mausoleum commemorating the victims of the genocide, as well as to the recently inaugurated museum. As well as recalling the suffering of those Armenians killed a century ago, Cardinal Sandri also prayed for peace in the Middle East today, especially in Syria and Iraq where “senseless violence continues to sow death and destruction”.
Please find below the full text of Cardinal Sandri’s speech to the Armenian President and his message to Catholicos Karekin II
Speech of Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, on the occasion of the conferral of the Honors of the Republic of Armenia, Yerevan, Presidential Palace, Friday, 25 September 2015
Your Excellency Mr. President,
I am deeply grateful for this honor and I accept this gesture in the spirit of profound esteem and friendship, which links me to the sons and daughters of this noble Land.
Over the years, both in my service as Substitute of the Secretary of State and now as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, I have had occasion to participate in events which exemplify the friendship and collaboration between your Country and the Holy See: the commemoration of 1700 years of the Baptism of Armenia, with the memorable voyage of Saint John Paul II; the placing of a statue of Saint Gregory the Illuminator in a niche of the Vatican Basilica; the naming in his honor of a courtyard of the same Basilica; various visits to the Pontiffs, such as those of the Catholicos, His Holiness Karekin II; and also the prayer, led by Pope Francis and witnessed by the entire world, at the Altar of the Confession of Saint Peter last 12 April, on the occasion of the commemoration of the victims of Metz Yeghern.
We can truly call this a profound friendship, and I welcome this honor which is accorded me today as a sign of this close bond between the Republic of Armenia and the Supreme Pontiff and the Apostolic See.
I recognize it as bestowed not so much on my person, but even more on His Holiness Pope Francis. Indeed, it is an honor for all those who love Armenia, a Country so proud of its Christian identity and also magnanimous in its openness to peoples and cultures, respectful of man and his rights in the concert of Nations.
As Saint John Paul II had occasion to recall during his visit of November 2001, from Yerevan one can contemplate the beauty and the perennial snows of Mount Ararat: for the Armenian people it is a symbol full of meaning, and also of suffering due to separation and to the memory of trials borne throughout history and also in recent times. In the Bible, the Ark of Noah came to rest on the summit of Mount Ararat. That marked the end of the great flood, whose waters had brought chaos and destruction, and it signified the beginning of a new life for humanity and for all creation. In his Encyclical Letter Laudato si’, Pope Francis writes: “We see this in the story of Noah, where God threatens to do away with humanity because of its constant failure to fulfil the requirements of justice and peace: ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh; for the earth is filled with violence through them’ (Gen 6:13). These ancient stories, full of symbolism, bear witness to a conviction which we today share, that everything is interconnected, and that genuine care for our own lives and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fra¬ternity, justice and faithfulness to others” (LS 70).
The hope that I would like now to express is that all us together, as individuals and as Representatives of Institutions, both in limited contexts and in the international sphere, might act so that the traditional Armenian songs when thinking of Ararat, might be enriched with notes of joy and happiness on account of the long desired gift of peace. The perennial snows of the summit should not evoke so much the thought of the coldness that can chill the hearts of men divided one against the other, but should rather recall, by the transparency and purity of snow crystals, the splendor which can illumine a man of pure heart and the face of a people who lives in peace.
As in this region there have of late occurred noteworthy gestures inspired by that high value – both human and Christian – which is ‘hospitality’. In these parts, groups of various sizes have found welcome, groups of persons fleeing the long and bloody conflicts in the Middle East and especially in Syria. May these acts of caring for people in need portend a new era of conciliation and dialogue, for which the Holy See would like to express all its sympathy and support. Thank you.
TO HIS HOLINESS KAREKIN II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians
It is a great joy to be with you for the blessing of the Holy Myron and to convey the prayerful best wishes of His Holiness Pope Francis, who has asked me to represent him on this solemn occasion. The Holy Father sends you his fraternal greetings and assures you and the entire Armenian Apostolic Church of his spiritual closeness.
Together with Your Holiness, and the bishops, clergy and faithful of the Catholicosate of All Armenians, I pray that the Holy Spirit may descend upon the Holy Myron and that all anointed with it may be the aroma of Christ (cf. 2 Cor 2:15). May the Spirit of all grace fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of his love.
Invoking the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, I join you in praying that the Paraclete may consecrate the Holy Myron with his sanctifying presence. During this year, as we commemorate the suffering and martyrdom of the Armenian people, may the blessing of the Holy Myron lead us along the path of forgiveness, peace and reconciliation. May the oil of God’s consolation be a balm that brings comfort, like that of the Good Samaritan, healing all wounds, soothing the pain of past memories and opening the way to a future of renewed hope. Strengthened by the intercession of the martyrs, we proclaim our faith with song and praise: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his mercy endures forever” (Ps 107:1).
The fraternal relations which have been established between the Catholic Church and the Catholicosate of all Armenians are a cause for great joy and gratitude to God. With deep appreciation, we recall Your Holiness’s recent visit to Pope Francis and to the Church of Rome, accompanied by a distinguished delegation of Bishops and a prominent group of laypeople from various countries. May the Holy Spirit continue to lead and inspire us on our journey towards the full communion for which Christ prayed.
With these sentiments, I renew the prayerful greeting of Pope Francis, who extends to Your Holiness a fraternal embrace.