ARMENIA — It is quite clear that, while the media have focused their attention on Pope Francis’ use of the word “genocide” to refer to the extermination of Armenians a century ago, the Pope’s intention in all of the messages he sent out in Armenia was simply to ensure that people’s vital memory of the past become not a reason for new clashes, conflicts and vendettas but a chance to build bridges and embrace forgiveness and reconciliation.
Christians of different denominations can still be testimonies of unity and co-operate.
“The patient and enduring commitment to full unity, the growth of joint initiatives and cooperation between all the Lord’s disciples in service to the common good,” the Pope said in his first speech in Armenia, which he pronounced when he arrived at the Cathedral of Etchmiadzin, “all these are like a radiant light in a dark night and a summons to experience even our differences in an attitude of charity and mutual understanding. The spirit of ecumenism, the path of dialogue and of collaboration takes on an exemplary value also outside of the visible confines of the ecclesial community; it represents for everyone a forceful appeal to settle divergences with dialogue and appreciation for all that unites us.”
During the papal Mass in Gyumri on Saturday, June 25, Francis invited his audience to build on the foundations of memory: faith but also “merciful love,” because “concrete love is the Christian’s visiting card; any other way of presenting ourselves could be misleading and even unhelpful, for it is by our love for one another that everyone will know that we are his disciples. We are called above all to build and rebuild paths of communion, tirelessly creating bridges of unity and working to overcome our divisions.”
The Pope developed this theme on Saturday evening, during the ecumenical meeting in Republic Square in Yerevan, when he said that “charity alone can heal memories and bind up past wounds. Memory alone erases prejudices and makes us see that openness to our brothers and sisters can purify and elevate our own convictions.” Following Jesus’ example, he said, “we are called to find the courage needed to abandon rigid opinions and personal interests in the name of the love that bends low and bestows itself, in the name of … humble love.”
“Memory, infused with love,” Francis went on to say, “becomes capable of setting out on new and unexpected paths, where designs of hatred become projects of reconciliation. We would all benefit from efforts to lay the foundations of a future that will resist being caught up in the illusory power of vengeance, a future of constant efforts to create the conditions for peace: dignified employment for all, care for those in greatest need, and the unending battle to eliminate corruption.”
Finally, at the end of the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, celebrated by Catholicos Karekin II, Francis said: “Let us respond to the appeal of the saints. Let us listen to the voices of the humble and poor, of the many victims of hatred who suffered and gave their lives for the faith. Let us pay heed to the younger generation, who seek a future free of past divisions. From this holy place may a radiant light shine forth once more, and to the light of faith, which has illumined these lands from the time of Saint Gregory, your Father in the Gospel, may there be joined the light of the love that forgives and reconciles.’”
When memory is accompanied by faith and mercy, it becomes forgiveness and reconciliation, rather than a cause for division and conflict. This was the spirit in which Pope Farncis commemorated the Armenian genocide, spending these past few days in profound communion with his brothers from the Armenian Apostolic Church.