“We implore the leaders of nations to listen to the plea of millions of human beings who long for peace and justice in the world, who demand respect for their God-given rights, who have urgent need of bread, not guns.” Pope Francis and Catholicos Karekin II wrote this in a joint declaration they signed on the afternoon of Sunday 26 June, at the apostolic place of Etchmiadzin. When the programme for the visit was published there was mention of a joint declaration but in recent days it looked as though there wasn’t going to be one.
In the declaration, Francis and Karekin II thank God “for the continuing and growing closeness in faith and love between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church in their common witness to the Gospel message of salvation in a world torn by strife and yearning for comfort and hope.” The declaration mentions the celebration presided over by the Pope in St. Peter’s Basilica in April 2015 to commemorate the centenary of the “Great Evil”, the extermination of a million and a half Armenians at the hands of the Turks. They mention the joint declaration signed fifteen years ago by Karekin II himself and John Paul II, which stated that this extermination is “generally referred to as the first genocide of the twentieth century”.
Having taken a look at the past, the two signatories turn their attention back to the present: “Sadly … we are witnessing an immense tragedy unfolding before our eyes, of countless innocent people being killed, displaced or forced into a painful and uncertain exile by continuing conflicts on ethnic, economic, political and religious grounds in the Middle East and other parts of the world.”
“As a result, religious and ethnic minorities have become the target of persecution and cruel treatment, to the point that suffering for one’s religious belief has become a daily reality,” teh declaration goe son to say. “The martyrs belong to all the Churches and their suffering is an “ecumenism of blood” which transcends the historical divisions between Christians, calling us all to promote the visible unity of Christ’s disciples.”
After praying to the funders of their respective Churches, “for a change of heart in all those who commit such crimes and those who are in a position to stop the violence”, Francis and Karekin II send out an appeal to heads of state: “We implore the leaders of nations to listen to the plea of millions of human beings who long for peace and justice in the world, who demand respect for their God-given rights, who have urgent need of bread, not guns.”
“Sadly, we are witnessing a presentation of religion and religious values in a fundamentalist way, which is used to justify the spread of hatred, discrimination and violence. The justification of such crimes on the basis of religious ideas is unacceptable.” The Pope and the Catholicos also state that “respect for religious difference is the necessary condition for the peaceful cohabitation of different ethnic and religious communities”.
“Precisely because we are Christians, we are called to seek and implement paths towards reconciliation and peace. In this regard we also express our hope for a peaceful resolution of the issues surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh.” The Pope and Karekin II ask “the faithful of our Churches to open their hearts and hands to the victims of war and terrorism, to refugees and their families. At issue is the very sense of our humanity, our solidarity, compassion and generosity which can only be properly expressed in an immediate practical commitment of resources.”
“We acknowledge all that is already being done, but we insist that much more is needed on the part of political leaders and the international community in order to ensure the right of all to live in peace and security, to uphold the rule of law, to protect religious and ethnic minorities, to combat human trafficking and smuggling.”
One of the passages in the declaration is dedicated to the family: “The secularization of large sectors of society, its alienation from the spiritual and divine, leads inevitably to a desacralized and materialistic vision of man and the human family. In this respect we are concerned about the crisis of the family in many countries. The Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church share the same vision of the family, based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between man and woman.”
Finally, the document addresses relations between Apostolic and Catholic Armenians. ” Today we are convinced of the crucial importance of furthering this relationship, engaging in deeper and more decisive collaboration not only in the area of theology, but also in prayer and active cooperation on the level of the local communities, with a view to sharing full communion and concrete expressions of unity. We urge our faithful to work in harmony for the promotion in society of the Christian values which effectively contribute to building a civilization of justice, peace and human solidarity.”
The joint declaration was mentioned in the initial programme for the Pope’s trip to Armenia but during the press briefing on the visit, held on Tuesday 21 June, Fr. Lombardi announced that for the time being there wasn’t one planned. This suggested there may have been some difficulties which were likely to do with the passages relating to the genocide. The Armenians probably wanted stronger words to be used and a clear mention of Turkey’s responsibility. In the end the joint declaraion was signed and it is yet another sign of the excellent relations between the two Churches.