Pope Francis and Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan place flowers at the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial in Yerevan, Armenia, June 25. The monument honours those slain in the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1918.

CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING

Pope Francis and Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan place flowers at the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial in Yerevan, Armenia, June 25. The monument honours those slain in the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1918.

July 11, 2016
CINDY WOODEN
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

Pope Francis and his hosts on his June 24-26 visit to Armenia repeatedly used the word "genocide" to describe the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1918.

It is a term that has raised the ire of the leaders of neighbouring Turkey in the past, and it did this time as well.

Turkey recalled its Vatican ambassador for about a year after Pope Francis in April 2015 quoted St. John Paul II in describing the massacre as the first genocide of the 20th century.

The pope's prepared text for his June 24 speech in Italian at the cathedral of the Armenian Apostolic Church at Etchmiadzin used the Armenian term "Metz Yeghern" or its Italian equivalent, "the Great Evil."

However, when speaking, the pope added the Italian "genocidio."

As well, the pope's hosts - the Armenian Orthodox patriarch and the country's president - repeatedly used the word "genocide."

That drew a rebuke from Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli who told reporters June 25 that the pope's statement was "very unfortunate."

Canikli asserted that in the pope's words "it is unfortunately possible to see all the reflections and traces of Crusader mentality."

NO CRUSADER SPIRIT

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, responded by saying that in the pope's remarks, "there is nothing of a spirit of the Crusades."

In Armenia, as elsewhere, Lombardi said, Pope Francis speaks "in a spirit of dialogue, of building peace and building bridges and not walls."

Pope Francis did not focus on the tragedy, but on the faith of Armenia's three million people, and the need for reconciliation and peace in the region.

Christians can show the world that faith is a power for the good of humanity, he said.

A solid, sorrow-tested Christian faith gives believers the strength to overcome even the most horrific adversity, forgive one's enemies and live in peace, the pope said.

SPIRITUAL AWAKENING

Catholicos Karekin II, the Armenian Orthodox patriarch, told the pope, "after the destruction caused by the Armenian Genocide and the godless years of the Soviet era, our Church is living a new spiritual awakening."

Nearly 90 per cent of Armenia's population belongs to the Armenian Apostolic Church; Catholics, mostly belonging to the Eastern-rite Armenian Catholic Church, make up almost 10 per cent of the population.

TWISTED AIMS

Pope Francis told the president and government officials, "Sadly that tragedy, that genocide was the first of the deplorable series of catastrophes of the past century made possible by twisted racial, ideological or religious aims" that extended to "planning the annihilation of entire peoples."

Unfortunately, he said, "the great international powers looked the other way."

The following day, Pope Francis formally paid tribute to victims of the genocide by visiting the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial, a monument to the martyrs.

PRESERVE THE MEMORY

Pope Francis wrote in the guestbook, "May God preserve the memory of the Armenian people. Memories should not be watered down or forgotten; memory is a source of peace and of the future."

Accompanied by Catholicos Karekin, and by bishops and clergy from both the Catholic and Armenian Apostolic churches, Pope Francis blessed a wreath of yellow and white flowers placed before the towering stone shards that protect the eternal flame at Tsitsernakaberd.

He and the catholicos descended a few steps to the flame's basin and laid roses at its edge before praying several minutes in silence.