“In this regard, it is vitally important that all those who declare their faith in God join forces to isolate those who use religion to promote war, oppression and violent persecution, exploiting and manipulating the holy name of God.” Pope Francis said this, in his address to President Serzh Sargsyan and Armenia’s political and diplomatic authorities, at the presidential palace in Yerevan, in a large room with a vaulted ceiling, decorated with stucco and with the Armenian and Vatican flags placed side by side in rows of three. The Pope, who had a conversation with the president before giving his speech, also invited “those responsible for the future of the nations” to “undertake courageously and without delay initiatives aimed at ending these sufferings” and defending victims of persecution.“We are not looking to assign guilt or make accusations,” said the president in his speech. “We simply want to call a spade a spade, because this allows two peoples who are close to make steps towards a genuine reconciliation and a common future, by recognising the past, forgiveness is about having a clean conscience.”
In his speech, Francis recalled the courage Armenia showed in testifying the faith, enduring great suffering but always picking itself up and starting over. He also quoted the poet Elise Ciarenz, speaking of Armenians’ “deep-seated love of their country”. “Our turquoise sky, our clear waters, the flood of light, the summer sun and the proud winter borealis… our age-old stones … our ancient etched books which have become a prayer”. In this, his second public address about the events that took place one century ago, with the massacre of a million and a half Armenians, recalling last year’s celebration in St. Peter’s: “The occasion was the commemoration of the centenary of the Metz Yeghérn, the “Great Evil” that struck your people and caused the death of a vast multitude of persons. Sadly, that tragedy was the first of the deplorable series of catastrophes of the past century, made possible by twisted racial, ideological or religious aims that darkened the minds of the tormentors even to the point of planning the annihilation of entire peoples.”
That tragedy, that genocide, he said – without reading from the written text – marked the start of the sad series of massive catastrophes which took place last century and were motivated by abhorrent racial, ideological or religious reasons that clouded the minds of the butchers, to the point of attempting to annihilate entire populations.” “It is so sad,” he added in another off-the-cuff comment in reference to the Jewish genocide and the one committed by communism, that in the Armenian one just as in the other two (genocides, Ed.), the world’s great powers looked the other way”. There was no mention of the word “genocide” in the prepared text, the Pope added it.
“I pay homage to the Armenian people who, illuminated by the light of the Gospel, even at the most tragic moments of their history, have always found in the cross and resurrection of Christ the strength to rise again and take up their journey anew with dignity.”
The reference to that enormous tragedy offers food for thought in the context of today’s situation: “Having seen the pernicious effects to which hatred, prejudice and the untrammelled desire for dominion led in the last century, I express my lively hope that humanity will learn from those tragic experiences the need to act with responsibility and wisdom to avoid the danger of a return to such horrors. May all join in striving to ensure that whenever conflicts emerge between nations, dialogue, the enduring and authentic quest of peace, cooperation between states and the constant commitment of international organizations will always prevail, with the aim of creating a climate of trust favourable for the achievement of lasting agreements.”
“It is vitally important,” the Pope added, “that all those who declare their faith in God join forces to isolate those who use religion to promote war, oppression and violent persecution, exploiting and manipulating the holy name of God.” “Today Christians in particular, perhaps even more than at the time of the first martyrs,” he stressed, “in some places experience discrimination and persecution for the mere fact of professing their faith. At the same time, all too many conflicts in various parts of the world remain unresolved, causing grief, destruction and forced migrations of entire peoples.”
“It is essential,” Francis explained, “that those responsible for the future of the nations undertake courageously and without delay initiatives aimed at ending these sufferings, making their primary goal the quest for peace, the defence and acceptance of victims of aggression and persecution, the promotion of justice and sustainable development.”
The Pope concluded by asking Armenia’s civil authorities to a show “constant concern”, ensuring “respect for the moral imperatives of equal justice for all and solidarity with the less fortunate”. He underlined the importance of “favouring the full participation of all in the life of society, freedom of religion and respect for minorities” and called for “a growing commitment to find helpful means of overcoming tension with neighbouring countries”. Tensions persist on the border with Turkey and with Azerbaijan.