“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.” Republic Square is a powerful symbol of the transformation of Yerevan from regional city to grand metropolis. From the 1940s until 1992, it was known as Lenin Square because of a giant statue of the Soviet leader that once stood there but was eventually demolished. This is the venue of the final event of Francis’ second day in Armenia. At the start of the ceremony, having just arrived on the papal flight from Gyumri, the pope and Karekin II walked through the square side by side, blessing the crowds. The Bishop of Rome and Catholicos Karekin II embraced and prayed together in peace, in the presence of thousands of people.
In his speech, Karekin II recalled that “indeed, one and a half decades ago we were greeting the third millennium with the hope that it would be the beginning of coexistence in solidarity among nations” and peace. Yet every day we hear troubling news of increase activities of war and acts of terror, unspeakable human suffering, and irreplaceable losses. Children, teenagers, women, and elderly in different corners of the world, of different nationalities, religions and confessions, become the victims of weapons of death and brutal violence, or they choose the path of refugees.
Karekin II went on to mention the Armenian genocide, adding that “today as well our nation lives under the difficult situation of an undeclared war, protecting peace within the borders of our country at a heavy price and the right of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to live in freedom in their maternal cradle. In response to our people’s peaceful aspirations,” the Catholicos went on to say, “Azerbaijan violated the ceasefire and began military operations on the borders of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh in the month of April. Armenian villages were bombarded and destroyed, soldiers who were protecting the peace as well as school-aged children were killed and wounded, peaceful and unarmed civilians were tortured.”
The Catholicos reminded his audience of the new countries that have “condemned the Armenian Genocide, including Germany which was an ally of Turkey during the First World War.” He expressed the hope that Turkey would show enough bravery to face its history, to end the illegal blockade of Armenia and to cease from supporting Azerbaijan’s militaristic provocations.
When Francis took the floor, he gave thanks again to God for the “real and profound unity” between the Catholic and Armenian Apostolic Churches: “Our presence here is not an exchange of ideas, but of gifts.” Francis said we should look with faith to the day when “by God’s help we shall be united around the altar of Christ’s sacrifice in the fullness of Eucharistic communion,” a “greatly desired” goal.
Francis then remembered the “many witnesses, particularly all those martyrs who sealed our common faith in Christ by their blood… Among the great Fathers, I would mention the saintly Catholicos Nerses Shnorhali. He showed an extraordinary love for his people and their traditions, as well as a lively concern for other Churches. Tireless in seeking unity, he sought to achieve Christ’s will that those who believe ‘may all be one.’ Unity does not have to do with strategic advantages sought out of mutual self-interest. Rather, it is what Jesus requires of us.” To achieve this necessary unity, Saint Nerses says more is required in the Church than the good will of a few: “everyone’s prayer is needed.”
Charity alone, the pope went on to say, “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… 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.” Indeed, it is “not the calculation of benefits,” that “attracts the mercy of the Father” but “humble and generous love” that “soften[s] the hardness of Christian hearts which are “often concerned only with themselves and their own advantage.”
“How many obstacles are found today along the path of peace, and how tragic the consequences of wars!” Francis said. “I think of all those who are forced to leave everything behind, particularly in the Middle East, where so many of our brothers and sisters suffer violence and persecution on account of hatred and interminable conflicts. Those conflicts are fueled by the proliferation of weapons and by the arms trade, by the temptation to resort to force and by lack of respect for the human person, especially for the weak, the poor and those who seek only a dignified life.”
The pope again talked about the massacre carried out a century ago against the Armenians: “Nor can I fail to think of the terrible trials that your own people experienced. A century has just passed from the ‘Great Evil’ unleashed upon you. This ‘immense and senseless slaughter’ (Greeting, Mass for Faithful of the Armenian Rite, 12 April 2015), this tragic mystery of iniquity that your people experienced in the flesh, remains impressed in our memory and burns in our hearts. Here I would again state that your sufferings are our own: ‘they are the sufferings of the members of Christ’s Mystical Body.’ Not to forget them is not only right, it is a duty. May they be a perennial warning lest the world fall back into the maelstrom of similar horrors!”
But Francis also expressed the hope that “memory, infused with love, 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.”
The pope invited the young to become peace builders and expressed the hope that “the people of Armenia and Turkey take up again the path of reconciliation, and may peace also spring forth in Nagorno Karabakh (Message to the Armenians, 12 April 2015).” Francis ended the event by greeting and embracing the Armenians, including the Armenian diaspora. He encouraged them “to give voice to this desire for fellowship” and be “ambassadors of peace”: “The whole world needs this message, it needs your presence, it needs your purest witness.”