Pope Francis embraces Catholicos Karekin II of Etchmiadzin, patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church, during an April 12 Mass to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.

CNS PHOTO | TONY GENTILE, REUTERS

Pope Francis embraces Catholicos Karekin II of Etchmiadzin, patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church, during an April 12 Mass to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.

April 20, 2015
CAROL GLATZ
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

VATICAN CITY – Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, Pope Francis said atrocities from the past have to be recognized ndash; not hidden or denied ndash; for true reconciliation and healing to come to the world.

However, Turkey's top government officials criticized the pope's use of the term "genocide" in reference to the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians during their forced evacuation by Ottoman Turks in 1915-18.

Turkey rejects the accusation of genocide, and the government called its ambassador to the Holy See back to Turkey "for consultations" April 12, the same day Pope Francis made his statement.

The government also summoned Archbishop Antonio Lucibello, nuncio to Turkey, to lodge a complaint.

During the Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday in St. Peter's Basilica, the pope lamented the continued forced expulsions and atrocious killings of Christians in the world.

"Today, too, we are experiencing a kind of genocide created by general and collective indifference" and "complicit silence," he said.

Humanity has lived through "three massive and unprecedented tragedies the past century: the first, which is generally considered 'the first genocide of the 20th century,'" struck the Armenian people, he said.

The pope was quoting from a joint declaration signed in 2001 by St. John Paul and Catholicos Karekin II of Etchmiadzin, patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

The other two 20th-century tragedies were those "perpetrated by Nazism and Stalinism," while more recently "other mass exterminations" have been seen in Cambodia, Rwanda, Burundi and Bosnia, Pope Francis said.

"It seems that the human family refuses to learn from its mistakes caused by the law of terror, so that there are still today those who try to eliminate their own kind with the help of some and with the complicit silence of others who act as bystanders," he said.

Addressing Armenian Christians, the pope said that recalling "that tragic event, that immense and senseless slaughter, which your forebears cruelly endured," was necessary and "indeed a duty" to honour their memory.

"Wherever memory does not exist, it means that evil still keeps the wound open," he said. "Concealing or denying evil is like letting a wound keep bleeding without treating it."

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the pope used "inappropriate" and "one-sided" language by describing the deaths of Armenians during the First World War as genocide.

Davutoglu said, "Only highlighting one side's suffering during wartime and discriminating the others' pain is not appropriate for the pope," adding that it would fuel racism and anti-Turkey sentiments in Europe.

Turkey's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a written statement that Pope Francis' references to events from 1915 as genocide "contradict historical and legal facts" and it claimed the Mass was "instrumentalized for political aims."

Turkey says the deaths were due largely to disease and famine during the "relocation process" and that both sides suffered many casualties during the war.

NO PROVOCATION

Meanwhile, Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni, who concelebrated the Mass with Pope Francis, said the pope's remarks were not a provocation against Turkey or Muslims, nor was the pope taking sides.

"His vision embraces the world; he expresses the sense of humanity that we all have to share" as caring for one another, he told the Vatican's Fides news agency.

The pope is concerned "about all the oppressed, the poor, the sick of every nation and religion.

"He has never separated the sufferings of Christians from the sufferings of others, as all of his pronouncements about the conflict bathing the Middle East in blood have shown," the patriarch said.

"Remembering and condemning the horrors of the past can serve as an impediment to those things happening again," he added.

PATH OF RECONCILIATION

At the end of the Mass, Pope Francis also handed a signed written message to the Armenian Catholic and Orthodox leaders and to Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan asking that "the path of reconciliation between the Armenian and Turkish people" be taken up again.

The message included a prayer that peace would come to the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave in Azerbaijan where tensions have been high since ethnic Armenian residents proclaimed their independence from Azerbaijan after a conflict in the early 1990s.

"May this sorrowful anniversary become for everyone an occasion for humble and sincere reflection, and for every heart to be open to forgiveness, which is the source of peace and renewed hope," the pope's message said.