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Pope to Armenia's Christians: work for peace and reconciliation

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Saturday urged young people in Armenia to be active peacemakers in a world suffering from persecutions and conflict. Speaking at an open air prayer service in Yerevan to leaders of all the Churches in Armenia, the Pope called on people of faith to abandon “rigid opinions and personal interests”, showing instead humility and generosity on the path towards full Christian unity.

Philippa Hitchen reports: 

During the prayer service for peace in Yerevan’s central Republic Square, the leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church, to which most believers in the country belong, Catholicos Karekin II spoke bluntly about the suffering and conflicts that plague the Caucasus region today. He recalled the fighting that flared again last April in the contested Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh where, he said, “Armenian villages were bombarded”, killing both soldiers and civilians.

The Patriarch also talked again about the Armenian genocide a century ago, noting how countries including Germany, an ally of Turkey during the First World War, have recently moved to recognize the atrocities as a key step towards peace and reconciliation in the region.

Pope Francis, in his words to the Christian leaders, also spoke of that “immense and senseless slaughter”, saying it is not only right, but also a duty to keep the memory of that tragedy alive. But memory, he insisted, must be transformed by love and by the driving force of faith to sow seeds of peace for the future. Memory, infused with love, he said, becomes capable of setting out on new and unexpected paths, where designs of hatred become projects of reconciliation

The Pope also spoke of the wars and conflicts in the Middle East today, fueled by the proliferation of weapons and by the arms trade. Adressing the young people present in the windswept square, he urged them to become peacemakers, “actively engaged in building a culture of encounter and reconciliation”.

Citing a famous 12th century Armenian figure, Catholicos Nerses IV, remembered as a champion of efforts towards church unity, Pope Francis said Christians must find the courage to abandon rigid opinions and personal interests in order to “heal memories and bind up past wounds”. He urged Armenians to work with humility and generosity for a peaceful society, based on dignified employment for all, care for those most in need and the elimination of corruption.

At the end of the prayer service, the Pope and the Patriarch watered seedlings of a vine planted by young Armenians in a model of Noah's Ark, believed to have come to rest after the great flood on the slopes of Mount Ararat, whose snow capped peaks dominate the eastern part of the country

Please find below the English translation of Pope Francis’ address at the Ecumenical Prayer Vigil for Peace in Yerevan

Venerable and Dear Brother, Supreme Patriarch-Catholicos of All Armenians,

Mr President, Dear Brothers and Sisters,

            God’s blessing and peace be with all of you!

            I have greatly desired to visit this beloved land, your country, the first to embrace the Christian faith.  It is a grace for me to find myself here on these heights where, beneath the gaze of Mount Ararat, the very silence seems to speak.  Here the khatchkar – the stone crosses – recount a singular history bound up with rugged faith and immense suffering, a history replete with magnificent testimonies to the Gospel, to which you are heir.  I have come as a pilgrim from Rome to be with you and to express my heartfelt affection: the affection of your brother and the fraternal embrace of the whole Catholic Church, which esteems you and is close to you.

            In recent years the visits and meetings between our Churches, always cordial and often memorable, have, thank God, increased.  Providence has willed that on this day commemorating the Holy Apostles of Christ we meet once again to confirm the apostolic communion between us.  I am most grateful to God for the “real and profound unity” between our Churches (cf. JOHN PAUL II, Ecumenical Celebration, Yerevan, 26 September 2001: Insegnamenti XXIV/2 [2001], 466), and I thank you for your often heroic fidelity to the Gospel, which is a priceless gift for all Christians.  Our presence here is not an exchange of ideas, but of gifts (cf. ID., Ut Unum Sint, 28): we are reaping what the Spirit has sown in us as a gift for each (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 246).  With great joy, we are walking together on a journey that has already taken us far, and we look confidently towards the day when by God’s help we shall be united around the altar of Christ’s sacrifice in the fullness of Eucharistic communion.  As we pursue that greatly desired goal, we are joined in a common pilgrimage; we walk with one another with “sincere trust in our fellow pilgrims, putting aside all suspicion and mistrust” (ibid., 244).

            On this journey, we have been preceded by, and walk with, many witnesses, particularly all those martyrs who sealed our common faith in Christ by their blood.  They are our stars in heaven, shining upon us here below and pointing out the path towards full communion. 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” (Jn 17:21).  Unity does not have to do with strategic advantages sought out of mutual self-interest.  Rather, it is what Jesus requires of us and what we ourselves must strive to attain with good will, constant effort and consistent witness, in the fulfilment of our mission of bringing the Gospel to the world.

            To realize this necessary unity, Saint Nerses tells us that in the Church more is required than the good will of a few: everyone’s prayer is needed.  It is beautiful that we have gathered here to pray for one another and with one another.  It is above all the gift of prayer that I come this evening to ask of you.  For my part, I assure you that, in offering the bread and cup at the altar, I will not fail to present to the Lord the Church of Armenia and your dear people.

            Saint Nerses spoke of the need to grow in mutual love, since 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.  For the sainted Catholicos, the journey towards unity necessarily involves imitating the love of Christ, who, “though he was rich” (2 Cor  8:9), “humbled himself” (Phil 2:8).  Following Christ’s example, 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 the humble love that is the blessed oil of the Christian life, the precious spiritual balm that heals, strengthens and sanctifies.  “Let us make up for our shortcomings in harmony and charity”, wrote Saint Nerses (Lettere del Signore Nerses Shnorhali, Catholicos degli Armeni, Venice, 1873, 316), and even – he suggested – with a particular gentleness of love capable of softening the hardness of the heart of Christians, for they too are often concerned only with themselves and their own advantage.  Humble and generous love, not the calculation of benefits, attracts the mercy of the Father, the blessing of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  By praying and “loving one another deeply from the heart” (cf. 1 Pet 1:22), in humility and openness of spirit, we prepare ourselves to receive God’s gift of unity.  Let us pursue our journey with determination; indeed, let us race towards our full communion!

            “Peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives it, do I give it to you” (Jn 14:27).  We have heard these words of the Gospel, which invite us to implore from God that peace that the world struggles to achieve.  How many obstacles are found today along the path of peace, and how tragic the consequences of wars!  I think of all those 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.

            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” (JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Letter on the 1700th Anniversary of the Baptism of the Armenian People, 4: Insegnamenti XXIV/1 [2001], 275).  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!

            At the same time, I recall with admiration how the Christian faith, “even at the most tragic moments of Armenian history, was the driving force that marked the beginning of your suffering people’s rebirth” (ibid., 276).  That is your true strength, which enables you to be open to the mysterious and saving path of Easter.  Wounds still open, caused by fierce and senseless hatred, can in some way be configured to the wounds of the risen Christ, those wounds that were inflicted upon him and that he bears even now impressed on his flesh.  He showed those glorious wounds to the disciples on the evening of Easter (cf. Jn 20:20).  Those terrible, painful wounds suffered on the cross, transfigured by love, have become a wellspring of forgiveness and peace.  Even the greatest pain, transformed by the saving power of the cross, of which Armenians are heralds and witnesses, can become a seed of peace for the future.

            Memory, infused with love, becomes capable of setting out on new and unexpected paths, where designs of hatred become projects of reconciliation, where hope arises for a better future for everyone, where “blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt 5:9).  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.

            Dear young people, this future belongs to you.  Cherish the great wisdom of your elders and strive to be peacemakers: not content with the status quo, but actively engaged in building the culture of encounter and reconciliation.  May God bless your future and “grant 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).

            In this perspective, I would like lastly to mention another great witness and builder of Christ’s peace, Saint Gregory of Narek, whom I have proclaimed a Doctor of the Church.  He could also be defined as a “Doctor of Peace”.  Thus he wrote in the extraordinary Book that I like to consider the “spiritual constitution of the Armenian people”: “Remember [Lord,] those of the human race who are our enemies as well, and for their benefit accord them pardon and mercy… Do not destroy those who persecute me, but reform them; root out the vile ways of this world, and plant the good in me and them” (Book of Lamentations, 83, 1-2).  Narek, “profoundly conscious of sharing in every need” (ibid., 3, 2), sought also to identify with the weak and sinners of every time and place in order to intercede on behalf of all (cf. ibid., 31, 3; 32, 1; 47, 2).  He became “the intercessor of the whole world” (ibid., 28, 2).  This, his universal solidarity with humanity, is a great Christian message of peace, a heartfelt plea of mercy for all.  Armenians are present in so many countries of the world; from here, I wish fraternally to embrace everyone.  I encourage all of you, everywhere, to give voice to this desire for fellowship, to be “ambassadors of peace” (JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Letter for the 1700th anniversary of the Baptism of the Armenian People, 7: Insegnamenti XXIV/1 [2001], 278).  The whole world needs this message, it needs your presence, it needs your purest witness.  Kha’ra’rutiun amenetzun! (Peace to you!).

(from Vatican Radio)

The Pope visits the Apostolic and Catholic Cathedrals in Gyumri

(Vatican Radio) During the afternoon of his second day in Armenia, Pope Francis’s schedule included a visit to the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral and to the Armenian Catholic Cathedral in the city of Gyumri, the second most populous city of the Nation.

Listen to the report by Linda Bordoni:

After morning an open-air Mass in Gyumri’s central Square and lunch at a convent, the Pope travelled to the airport to board the plane taking him back to Yerevan for an event featuring an Ecumenical Encounter and a Prayer for Peace in the capital city’s Republic Square.

On the way, a first stop took him to the Apostolic Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Mother of God.

Here Pope Francis and Catholicos Karekin II were to be greeted by Armenian Apostolic Bishops and by a small group of disabled people and Syrian refugees. 

After praying in silence before the Marian Icon of the Seven Wounds and venerating the Crucifix together with the Catholicos, the Pope was to impart his Apostolic Blessing.

The Apostolic Armenian Cathedral is known also as the Seven Wounds of the Holy Mother of God. Located in Vartanants Square, it is the seat of the Diocese of Shirak .

The church is topped with a large dome at the center surrounded with 2 minor domes. Unlike other Armenian churches, the altar at the Holy Mother of God is unique for its multi-iconic decoration. The church remained active during the Soviet years. After the 1988 Spitak earthquake, the building was restored after independence thanks to the contribution of Armenian benefactors who had emigrated to Argentina. The two minor domes that fell down during the earthquake were replaced with new ones and tthe fallen domes are currently placed in the church yard.

The second Cathedral Pope Francis to receive the Pope’s visit on Friday afternoon is the Armenian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Martyrs.

Here, the Pope and the Catholicos are greeted at the main entrance of the church by Archbishop Raphael Francois Minassian, the Ordinary of Eastern Europe for Armenian Catholics and by the Parish Priest .

Awaiting them inside the small cathedral, a group of benefactors of the Armenian Catholic Church.

The Cathedral is the seat of the Ordinariate for Armenia, Georgia, Russia, and Eastern Europe of the Armenian Catholic Church. Construction for the building began in December 2010 and was completed in 2015. 

The cathedral was originally to be named "Holy Cross", but was changed to "Holy Martyrs" in effort to pay tribute to the victims of the Armenian Genocide.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis has lunch at Our Lady of Armenia convent and orphanage

(Vatican Radio)  Following celebration of Holy Mass in Varanans Square on Saturday morning, Pope Francis visited the convent and orphanage of Our Lady of Armenia - Boghossian Education Centre for lunch with around 60 hungry youngsters.

The orphanage is run by the Congregation of the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, who also run the Diramyer Vocational School and a day-care center housed on the same campus.

At the end of the visit, a photo opportunity with the orphans helped by the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, benefactors, and several former residents of the orphanage along with their children provides a highlight to the event.

The History of Our Lady of Armenia Center

With the independence of Armenia, the dream of the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception to serve in the homeland became a reality. Following the horrible earthquake of 1988, the Sisters had already come to Armenia to console the grief of our nation. Today, the Order has an orphanage, a Vocational School and a day-care Center for the Elderly in Gyumri, a day-care Center in Tashir, a summer camp in Tsaghkadzor and a Convent in Javakhq, Georgia. The Sisters teach catechism and do pastoral work in many of the Catholic villages of the regions of Shirak,  Tashir, and Southern Georgia.

Initially, the Sisters worked in Spitak. In 1992, the Covent was formally established in the village of Arevig and the apostolate of the Sisters consisted in teaching catechism and doing pastoral work in the villages or Arevig, Panik and Lantchig. At the end of 1993, the Sisters moved to Gyumri while continuing their service to the three villages. It was during their religion classes that the Sisters witnessed the deplorable state of many orphaned children. They had lost their parents either during the earthquake or the battle of Nagorno-Karabakh.

In an effort to provide a brief respite to these children, the Sisters organized a summer camp program in 1994. First, the Sisters used rented facilities in Hankavan and Byuragan until the Foundation Alliance Armenienne of Geneva, Switzerland, donated a complex in Tsaghkadzor. Some 850 children, ages 8 to 15 spend a 16-day vacation at the Diramayr Hayastani Jambar.

The success of the camp program is at the genesis of the Our Lady of Armenia-Boghossian Educational Center. It was the wish of Robert Boghossian & Sons family, that an educational Centre be established to house the orphans all year long.

Construction works began in 1996 and the beautiful complex was inaugurated on September 16, 1998. The whole complex is the gift of Fonds Robert Boghossian & Fils and the Sisters are deeply grateful to the generous benefactors who continue to partially fund the running expenses of the Center.

Recruitment of the children is done in different ways. Priority is given to abandoned children, orphans of both parents, children whose fathers have abandoned them and the mother is not capable of providing for the needs of the child. 

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis in Gyumri, Armenia thanks 'Pope's hospital'

(Vatican Radio)  At the conclusion of Mass in Gyumri, Armenia on Saturday, Pope Francis took a moment to greet “all those who with such generosity and practical charity are helping our brothers and sisters in need.”  In particular, the Pontiff recalled what is known as “the Pope’s Hospital” desired by Pope John Paul II himself and which opened 25 years ago in Ashotsk.  “It was born of the heart of Saint John Paul II,” Pope Francis observed, “and it continues to be an important presence close to those who are suffering.”

Below, please find Pope Francis’ remarks upon conclusion of Holy Mass in Gyumri, Armenia:

At the conclusion of this celebration, I wish to express my deep gratitude to Catholicos Karekin II and to Archbishop Minassian for their gracious words.  I also thank Patriarch Ghabroyan and the Bishops present, as well as the priests and the Authorities who have warmly welcomed us.

I thank all of you here present, who have come to Gyumri from different regions and from nearby Georgia.  I especially greet all those who with such generosity and practical charity are helping our brothers and sisters in need.  I think in particular of the hospital in Ashotsk, opened twenty-five years ago and known as “the Pope’s Hospital”.  It was born of the heart of Saint John Paul II, and it continues to be an important presence close to those who are suffering.  I think too of the charitable works of the local Catholic community, and those of the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception and the Missionaries of Charity of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. 

May the Virgin Mary, our Mother, accompany you always and guide your steps in the way of fraternity and peace.  

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis at Mass in Gyumri, Armenia

(Vatican Radio)   Speaking at Holy Mass Saturday in Gyumri, Armenia, Pope Francis recalled the “terrible devastation” wrought by the massive 1988 earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people and gave thanks “for all that has been rebuilt.”

In his Homily, the Pope offered three “stable foundations upon which we can tirelessly build and rebuild the Christian life.”

The first foundation, he said, is “memory:” to “recall what the Lord has done in and for us” and that “He has chosen us, loved us, called us and forgiven us.”  “The memory of a people” like those in Armenia, also needs to be preserved the Pope added.  “Even in the face of tremendous adversity,” he stressed, God has “remembered your faithfulness to the Gospel… and all those who testified, even at the price of their blood, that God’s love is more precious than life itself.”

Faith, the Holy Father said, is the second foundation on which to build Christian life. But, he warned, “there is always a danger that can dim the light of faith and that is the temptation to reduce it to something from the past, something important but belonging to another age…to be kept in a museum.”

The third foundation, the Pope added, “is merciful love:”  “We are called above all to build and rebuild paths of communion, tirelessly creating bridges of unity and working to overcome our divisions.”

Below, please find the full English translation of Pope Francis’ Homily at Holy Mass in Gyumri, Armenia:

“They shall build up the ancient ruins… they shall repair the ruined cities” (Is 61:4).  In this place, dear brothers and sisters, we can say that the words of the Prophet Isaiah have come to pass.  After the terrible devastation of the earthquake, we gather today to give thanks to God for all that has been rebuilt.

Yet we might also wonder: what is the Lord asking us to build today in our lives, and even more importantly, upon what is he calling us to build our lives?  In seeking an answer to this question, I would like to suggest three stable foundations upon which we can tirelessly build and rebuild the Christian life.

The first foundation is memory.  One grace we can implore is that of being able to remember: to recall what the Lord has done in and for us, and to remind ourselves that, as today’s Gospel says, he has not forgotten us but “remembered” us (Lk 1:72).  God has chosen us, loved us, called us and forgiven us.  Great things have happened in our personal love story with him, and these must be treasured in our minds and hearts.  Yet there is another memory we need to preserve: it is the memory of a people.  Peoples, like individuals, have a memory.  Your own people’s memory is ancient and precious.  Your voices echo those of past sages and saints; your words evoke those who created your alphabet in order to proclaim God’s word; your songs blend the afflictions and the joys of your history.  As you ponder these things, you can clearly recognize God’s presence.  He has not abandoned you.  Even in the face of tremendous adversity, we can say in the words of today’s Gospel that the Lord has visited your people (cf. Lk 1:68).  He has remembered your faithfulness to the Gospel, the first-fruits of your faith, and all those who testified, even at the price of their blood, that God’s love is more precious than life itself (cf. Ps 63:4).  It is good to recall with gratitude how the Christian faith became your people’s life breath and the heart of their historical memory.

Faith is also hope for your future and a light for life’s journey.  Faith is the second foundation I would like to mention.  There is always a danger that can dim the light of faith, and that is the temptation to reduce it to something from the past, something important but belonging to another age, as if the faith were a beautiful illuminated book to be kept in a museum.  Once it is locked up in the archives of history, faith loses its power to transform, its living beauty, its positive openness to all.  Faith, however, is born and reborn from a life-giving encounter with Jesus, from experiencing how his mercy illumines every situation in our lives.  We would do well to renew this living encounter with the Lord each day.  We would do well to read the word of God and in silent prayer to open our hearts to his love.  We would do well to let our encounter with the Lord’s tenderness enkindle joy in our hearts: a joy greater than sadness, a joy that even withstands pain and in turn becomes peace.  All of this renews our life, makes us free and open to surprises, ready and available for the Lord and for others. 

It can happen too that Jesus calls us to follow him more closely, to give our lives to him and to our brothers and sisters.  When he calls – and I say this especially to you young people – do not be afraid; tell him “Yes!”  He knows us, he really loves us, and he wants to free our hearts from the burden of fear and pride.  By making room for him, we become capable of radiating his love.  Thus you will be able to carry on your great history of evangelization.  This is something the Church and the world need in these troubled times, which are also a time of mercy. 

The third foundation, after memory and faith, is merciful love: on this rock, the rock of the love we receive from God and offer to our neighbour, the life of a disciple of Jesus is based.  In the exercise of charity, the Church’s face is rejuvenated and made beautiful.  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 (cf. Jn 13:35).  We are called above all to build and rebuild paths of communion, tirelessly creating bridges of unity and working to overcome our divisions.  May believers always set an example, cooperating with one another in mutual respect and a spirit of dialogue, knowing that “the only rivalry possible among the Lord’s disciples is to see who can offer the greater love!” (JOHN PAUL II, Homily, 27 September 2001: Insegnamenti XXIV/2 [2001], 478).

In today’s first reading, the prophet Isaiah reminds us that the Spirit of the Lord is always with those who carry glad tidings to the poor, who bind up the brokenhearted and console the afflicted (cf. 61:1-2).  God dwells in the hearts of those who love him.  God dwells wherever there is love, shown especially by courageous and compassionate care for the weak and the poor.  How much we need this!  We need Christians who do not allow themselves to be overcome by weariness or discouraged by adversity, but instead are available, open and ready to serve.  We need men and women of good will, who help their brothers and sisters in need, with actions and not merely words.  We need societies of greater justice, where each individual can lead a dignified life and, above all, be fairly remunerated for his or her work.

All the same, we might ask ourselves: how can we become merciful, with all the faults and failings that we see within ourselves and all about us?  I would like to appeal to one concrete example, a great herald of divine mercy, one to whom I wished to draw greater attention by making him a Doctor of the Universal Church: Saint Gregory of Narek, word and voice of Armenia.  It is hard to find his equal in the ability to plumb the depths of misery lodged in the human heart.  Yet he always balanced human weakness with God’s mercy, lifting up a heartfelt and tearful prayer of trust in the Lord who is “giver of gifts, root of goodness… voice of consolation, news of comfort, joyful impulse… unparalleled compassion, inexhaustible mercy… the kiss of salvation” (Book of Lamentations, 3, 1).  He was certain that “the light of God’s mercy is never clouded by the shadow of indignation” (ibid., 16, 1).  Gregory of Narek is a master of life, for he teaches us that the most important thing is to recognize that we are in need of mercy.  Despite our own failings and the injuries done to us, we must not become self-centred but open our hearts in sincerity and trust to the Lord, to “the God who is ever near, loving and good” [ibid., 17, 2), “filled with love for mankind … a fire consuming the chaff of sin (ibid., 16, 2).

In the words of Saint Gregory, I would like now to invoke God’s mercy and his gift of unfailing love: Holy Spirit, “powerful protector, intercessor and peace-maker, we lift up our prayers to you…  Grant us the grace to support one another in charity and good works…  Spirit of sweetness, compassion, loving kindness and mercy…  You who are mercy itself… Have mercy on us, Lord our God, in accordance with your great mercy” (Hymn of Pentecost).

 

(from Vatican Radio)

Catholicos Karekin II greets Pope at Mass in Gyumri Armenia

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis is celebrating the Holy Mass at this hour in the Armenian city of Gyumri on the second day of his apostolic visit to the former Soviet nation. At the start of the Liturgy, His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of all Armenians welcomed the pontiff by thanking the Catholic Church which “gave a helping hand of brotherly love to the victims” of the devastating 1988 Armenian earthquake which killed 25,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless.

The Catholicos noted with satisfaction that “Gyumri is one of those historical towns of Armenia where centuries-old Armenican Christian values have flourished” and that they “are bearers of a beautiful tradition of Christian brotherly coexistence.” 

In particular, His Holiness cited the city’s church of the Holy Mother of God which opened its doors to Christians of all denominations during “the Soviet years of atheism when churches were being destroyed or shut in Armenia and only through the zealous resistance of our people, the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin and a few other churches were still open.”  

The Catholicos also noted the "seal of anguish" that distinguishes Gyumri which "felt the heavy blows of the Ottoman Empire's devastating and invasive politics" when "our people were subjected to genocide" at the beginning of the twentieth century."

 

Below, please find the English translation of His Holiness Karekin II’s discourse:

 (Gyumri, June 25, 2016)

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

John 13:34

Your Holiness,  Beloved spiritual brothers and faithful children,

Today, as our Church is commemorating the Feast of the Holy Apostles of the Lord, this message directed by our Lord to His disciples, is so ever sweetly and powerfully resounding in our souls. With this God-given warm feeling of love in the name of all the faithful of the region we welcome you to the city of Gyumri, beloved brother in Christ. It brings us great joy to be joining you in prayer, a great friend of the Armenian Church and the Armenian people, in a Mass celebrated by you.

Gyumri is one of those historical towns of Armenia where centuries-old Armenian Christian values have flourished, where the history and culture of our people and the spirit of generosity have harmoniously been shaped. The people of Gyumri are distinguished for their particularly profound faith and love towards the Church. They are also bearers of a beautiful tradition of Christian brotherly coexistence, which is witnessed by the prayerful presence of the faithful of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic Churches, as well as of other Christian denominations. During the Soviet years of atheism churches were being destroyed or shut in Armenia, and only through the zealous resistance of our people, the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin and a few other churches were still open. During that time, Gyumri’s church of the Holy Mother of God (Yotverk) opened its maternal bosom and became a haven and a place of prayer for all the Christians of the Northern districts of Armenia and of the ethnically Armenian towns and villages of Georgia, regardless of their national identity or what denomination they belonged to, may they be Armenian Apostolic, Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. The Northern apse of Yotverk church was turned into a place of prayer for the Catholic faithful where the crucifixion statue in the Catholic tradition, brought from the Catholic Church of Arevik village, was erected and is maintained to this day. While the Southern apse was provided to the Russian Orthodox where in a most honorable place, the Russian icon of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker was placed. Thus, Gyumri and the church of the Holy Mother of God (Yotverk) became a tangible provider and preacher for ecumenism, years before the modern definition of ecumenism was established.

            Beloved brother in Christ, the city which we are visiting today, on its warm and hospitable heart, also carries the seal of anguish. At the dawn of the twentieth century, when our people were subjected to genocide, Gyumri as well felt the heavy blows of the Ottoman Empire’s devastating and invasive politics. Today as well Gyumri faces closed borders as a witness to the genocide committed one hundred years ago and to the continuous denialist policies.

The pious people in Gyumri stood against the disaster of the earthquake through faith and brave heart. On this occasion we extend our words of appreciation to the Catholic Church, who also in those difficult days gave a helping hand of brotherly love to the victims of the earthquake, according to the words of the apostle, “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:23-24). Today as well our Children in Gyumri continue to overcome the difficulties and make dedicated efforts to transform Gyumri into a prosperous and thriving city. The testimonies to this are the Catholic Church, built in the recent years, and the two restored historic churches, gracefully overlooking this square as symbols of the revival of Gyumri.

            Giving thanks to the Lord for this blessed day of unity of prayer in Gyumri, together with our beloved brother Pope Francis, we bring to you, dear faithful, our plea and wish so that through the firm steps of faith, brotherly love, and hope, you may witness in this world to the following commandment of Christ, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34)

            With this wish we also greet and extend our appreciation and blessings to government officials of Gyumri and the region, and to our faithful people of Shirak. We bring our appreciation and blessings to the Primate of the Diocese of Shirak, His Grace Bishop Michael Ajapahyan, and his co-serving clergy, as well as to the clergy of the Catholic community under the leadership of His Eminence, Archbishop Rafael Minassian. We wish them, with the support of the Lord, to successfully continue the pastoral care of their flock and the partnership in brotherly love.

We extend our prayer to Almighty God with the intercession of the Holy Apostles and all the witnesses of the Lord, for peace in the world, a prosperous and secure life for humanity and for the vibrancy of the holy Church of Christ.

            Your Holiness, our dear brother in Christ, your visit to Gyumri is a spiritual renewal for the faithful of the region of Shirak, and it shall always be remembered with warmth and love. 

Again with a joyous heart we reaffirm that your visit is a new testimony to the fraternal relationship between our churches.

May God keep steadfast the brotherhood and make fruitful the cooperation between our churches. Forever and ever. Amen. 

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis prays at Armenian Metz Yeghern memorial in Tzitzernakaberd

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis participated in a prayer service at the Tzitzernakaberd Memorial to the Metz Yeghern, or 'Great Evil', in Armenia on Saturday morning, offering an intercessory prayer and extensive silent prayer for the dead.

The ecumenical prayer service, held in memory of those fallen in the massacre of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire in 1915, consisted in the Our Father prayer, the reading of two Biblical passages (Heb 10,32-36 & John 14,1-13), and an intercessory prayer by Pope Francis.

Also present at the prayer service was a small group of descendants of the Armenian refugees whom Pope Pius XI hosted at the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo after the Metz Yeghern.

At the conclusion of the service, the Holy Father stopped briefly to bless and water a tree in remembrance of his visit to the Tzitzernakaberd Memorial.

Below, please find a Vatican Radio English translation of the Pope's intercessory prayer:

Christ, who crowns your saints, who fulfills the will of your faithful  and looks with love and tenderness upon your creatures, hear us from your holy heavens, by the intercession of the holy Generatrix of God and by the prayer of your saints and those whom we remember today. Hear us, O Lord, and have mercy. Forgive us, expiate and remit our sins. Make us worthy to glorify you with thankful hearts, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis addresses Armenian civil authorities and diplomats

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis spoke to Armenian civil authorities, including President Serž Sargsyan and the diplomatic corps, on Friday in the capital Yerevan on his 14th Apostolic Journey abroad.

In remarks prepared for the occasion and delivered in Italian, the Holy Father recalled the Armenian president's visit to the Vatican last year for the centenary of the Metz Yeghern (or 'Great Evil'). He said, "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 darkened the minds of the tormentors even to the point of planning the annihilation of entire peoples."

He also paid 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".

Below, please find the official English translation of the Pope's address:

Address of His Holiness Pope Francis to Civil Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps

Yerevan, 24 June 2016

Mr President,

Honourable Authorities,

Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It gives me great joy to be here, to set foot on the soil of this beloved land of Armenia, to visit a people of ancient and rich traditions, a people that has given courageous testimony to its faith and suffered greatly, yet has shown itself capable of constantly being reborn.

“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” (ELISE CIARENZ, Ode to Armenia).  These are among the powerful images that one of your illustrious poets offers us to illustrate the rich history and natural beauty of Armenia.  They sum up the rich legacy and the glorious yet dramatic experience of a people and their deep-seated love of their country.

I am most grateful to you, Mr President, for your kind words of welcome in the name of the government and people of Armenia, and for your gracious invitation that has made it possible to reciprocate the visit you made to the Vatican last year.  There you attended the solemn celebration in Saint Peter’s Basilica, together with Their Holinesses Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch-Catholicos of All Armenians, and Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, and His Beatitude Nerses Bedros XIX, Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians, recently deceased.  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, 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 darkened the minds of the tormentors even to the point of planning the annihilation of entire peoples.

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.  This shows the depth of their Christian faith and its boundless treasures of consolation and hope.  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.

The Catholic Church wishes to cooperate actively with all those who have at heart the future of civilization and respect for the rights of the human person, so that spiritual values will prevail in our world and those who befoul their meaning and beauty will be exposed as such.  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.

Today Christians in particular, perhaps even more than at the time of the first martyrs, 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 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 Armenian people have experienced these situations firsthand; they have known suffering and pain; they have known persecution; they preserved not only the memory of past hurts, but also the spirit that has enabled them always to start over again.  I encourage you not to fail to make your own precious contribution to the international community.

This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Armenia’s independence.  It is a joyful occasion, but also an opportunity, in cherishing the goals already achieved, to propose new ones for the future.  The celebration of this happy anniversary will be all the more significant if it becomes for all Armenians, both at home and in the diaspora, a special moment for gathering and coordinating energies for the sake of promoting the country’s civil and social development of the country, one that is equitable and inclusive.  This will involve constant concern for ensuring respect for the moral imperatives of equal justice for all and solidarity with the less fortunate (cf. JOHN PAUL II, Farewell Address from Armenia, 27 September 2001: Insegnamenti XXIX/2 [2001], 489).  The history of your country runs parallel to its Christian identity preserved over the centuries.  That identity, far from impeding a healthy secularity of the state, instead requires and nourishes it, favouring the full participation of all in the life of society, freedom of religion and respect for minorities.  A spirit of unity between all Armenians and a growing commitment to find helpful means of overcoming tension with neighbouring countries, will facilitate the realization of these important goals, and inaugurate for Armenia an age of true rebirth.

The Catholic Church is present in this country with limited human resources, yet readily offers her contribution to the development of society, particularly through her work with the poor and vulnerable in the areas of healthcare and education, but also in the specific area of charitable assistance.  This is seen in the work carried out in the past twenty-five years by the Redemptoris Mater Hospital in Ashotzk, the educational institute in Yerevan, the initiatives of Caritas Armenia and the works managed by the various religious congregations.

May God bless and protect Armenia, a land illumined by the faith, the courage of the martyrs and that hope which proves stronger than any suffering.

(from Vatican Radio)

Faith is not a museum piece, Pope says

Gyumri, Armenia, Jun 25, 2016 / 03:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During the first major Mass of his three-day visit to Armenia, Pope Francis said faith is not a thing of the past, like an artifact in a museum. Rather, it is kept alive through continuous encounters with Christ. Faith “is born and reborn from a life-giving encounter with Jesus, from experiencing how his mercy illumines every situation in our lives,” the Pope said during his June 25 homily in the northwestern city of Gyurmi. The pontiff warned against the temptation to reduce faith to something that belongs in the past, as if it “were a beautiful illuminated book to be kept in a museum.” “Once it is locked up in the archives of history, faith loses its power to transform, its living beauty, its positive openness to all,” he said. The Pope acknowledged the faith of the people of Armenia, the first country to embrace Christianity, and the site of a bloody persecution against Christians 100 years ago. “He has remembered your faithfulness to the Gospel, the first-fruits of your faith, and all those who testified, even at the price of their blood, that God’s love is more precious than life itself,” he said. Pope Francis delivered his homily during Mass at Vartanants Square in Gyumri, the main event of his second day in the country. The city had recently been largely rebuilt after a 1988 earthquake devastated the region, and killed tens of thousands of people. Pope Francis made reference to the earthquake in his homily, in which he spoke on the theme of rebuilding. “Yet we might also wonder: what is the Lord asking us to build today in our lives, and even more importantly, upon what is he calling us to build our lives?” Drawing on this theme of rebuilding, the Pope challenged the faithful to consider not only what God wants them to build in their lives, but the foundation upon which they should build. The pontiff suggested three ways of building a solid foundation: memory, faith, and merciful love. Memory is recalling “what the Lord has done in and for us,” that “God has chosen us, loved us, called us and forgiven us,” Pope Francis said. “Great things have happened in our personal love story with him, and these must be treasured in our minds and hearts.” The Pope also spoke about the importance of preserving the “memory of a people.” “Your own people’s memory is ancient and precious. Your voices echo those of past sages and saints; your words evoke those who created your alphabet in order to proclaim God’s word; your songs blend the afflictions and the joys of your history.” “As you ponder these things, you can clearly recognize God’s presence. He has not abandoned you. Even in the face of tremendous adversity, we can say in the words of today’s Gospel that the Lord has visited your people.” “He has remembered your faithfulness to the Gospel, the first-fruits of your faith, and all those who testified, even at the price of their blood, that God’s love is more precious than life itself.” The second way of building a foundation is with faith, Pope Francis said. He addressed the danger of reducing faith to something that belongs in the past, as if it “were a beautiful illuminated book to be kept in a museum.” “Once it is locked up in the archives of history, faith loses its power to transform, its living beauty, its positive openness to all,” he warned. Rather, faith “is born and reborn from a life-giving encounter with Jesus, from experiencing how his mercy illumines every situation in our lives,” the Pope said, which should be renewed daily by reading God's word and praying silently “to open our hearts to his love.” “We would do well to let our encounter with the Lord’s tenderness enkindle joy in our hearts: a joy greater than sadness, a joy that even withstands pain and in turn becomes peace.” Francis challenged the faithful, especially young people, to respond when “Jesus calls us to follow him more closely, to give our lives to him and to our brothers and sisters.” “Do not be afraid; tell him 'Yes!' He knows us, he really loves us, and he wants to free our hearts from the burden of fear and pride,” the Pope said. “By making room for him, we become capable of radiating his love.” “Thus you will be able to carry on your great history of evangelization. This is something the Church and the world need in these troubled times, which are also a time of mercy.” The third and final way of building a foundation is to foster “merciful love” towards neighbor, the Pope said. “Concrete love is the Christian’s visiting card,” the pontiff said; “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.” Pope Francis cited the first reading from Isaiah during the day's Mass, which reminds the faithful how “the Spirit of the Lord is always with those who carry glad tidings to the poor, who bind up the brokenhearted and console the afflicted.” “God dwells in the hearts of those who love him. God dwells wherever there is love, shown especially by courageous and compassionate care for the weak and the poor.” “How much we need this! We need Christians who do not allow themselves to be overcome by weariness or discouraged by adversity, but instead are available, open and ready to serve.” He called on people of good will to help others with not only words but also actions, and stressed the need for more just societies “where each individual can lead a dignified life and, above all, be fairly remunerated for his or her work.” St. Gregory of Narek, who was declared doctor of the Church in 2015 by Pope Francis, is an example of learning how to be merciful despite our faults, the pontiff said. “It is hard to find his equal in the ability to plumb the depths of misery lodged in the human heart,” Francis said. “Yet (Gregory of Narek) always balanced human weakness with God’s mercy, lifting up a heartfelt and tearful prayer of trust in the Lord.” “Gregory of Narek is a master of life, for he teaches us that the most important thing is to recognize that we are in need of mercy,” the Pope said.   “Despite our own failings and the injuries done to us, we must not become self-centred but open our hearts in sincerity and trust to the Lord.” In his remarks at the conclusion of Mass, the Pope extended a special greeting to “all those who with such generosity and practical charity are helping our brothers and sisters in need.” The pontiff particularly recalled the hospital in Ashotsk, known as the “Pope's Hospital,” which was established 25 years ago. This hospital, he said, “was born of the heart of Saint John Paul II, and it continues to be an important presence close to those who are suffering.” Pope Francis' June 24-26 to Armenia was organized following the invitation of Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, Karekin II, the nation's civil authorities, and the Catholic Church. The visit also comes a little over 100 years after the 1915 Armenian genocide, during which some 1.5 million Christians were killed by the Ottoman Empire, and millions more displaced. Armenia has an ancient Christian legacy, being the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion, in 301.

'Spirit of Ecumenism' helps promote Christian witness, Pope says

Yerevan, Jun 24, 2016 / 07:24 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Praying at the main cathedral of the Armenian Apostolic Church at the start of his three-day visit to the Caucasus nation, Pope Francis praised the “spirit of ecumenism,” and its role in promoting human dignity against “grave forms of material and spiritual poverty.” “We offer to the world – which so urgently needs it – a convincing witness that Christ is alive and at work, capable of opening new paths of reconciliation among the nations, civilizations and religions,” the Pope said Friday. “We offer a credible witness that God is love and mercy.” The Pope made these remarks during his visit to the St. Etchmiadzin cathedral at the invitation of Karekin II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. It is believed to be the oldest cathedral in the world. The Armenian Apostolic Church, Armenia's national church, is an Oriental Orthodox Church to which 93 percent of the population belongs. “When our actions are prompted by the power of Christ’s love, understanding and reciprocal esteem grow,” Francis said, “a fruitful ecumenical journey becomes possible, and all people of goodwill, and society as a whole, are shown a concrete way to harmonize the conflicts that rend civil life and create divisions that prove hard to heal.” The “spirit of ecumenism,” he explained, “prevents the exploitation and manipulation of faith.” This is because it “requires us to rediscover faith’s authentic roots, and to communicate, defend and spread truth with respect for the dignity of every human being and in ways that reveal the presence of the love and salvation we wish to spread.” The visit to Saint Etchmiadzin cathedral, the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church, is the first major stop on Pope Francis' June 24-26 visit to the Caucasus nation. Following a greeting by Catholicos Karekin II, Pope Francis Francis expressed his gratitude for the invitation to visit Saint Etchmiadzin, along with the bishops and archbishops of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The Pope reflected on the nation's Christian legacy, saying he thanked God “for the light of faith kindled” in Armenia, which has given it a “particular identity and made it a herald of Christ among the nations.” “Christ is your glory and your light. He is the sun who has illuminated and enlivened you, accompanied and sustained you, especially in times of trial.” In 301 A.D., Armenia became the first nation to establish Christianity as its state religion, “at a time when persecutions still raged throughout the Roman Empire,” the pontiff recalled. “For Armenia, faith in Christ has not been like a garment to be donned or doffed as circumstances or convenience dictate,” he said. Rather, it is “an essential part of its identity, a gift of immense significance, to be accepted with joy, preserved with great effort and strength, even at the cost of life itself.” This “luminous testimony of faith,” the Pope said, “is a shining example of the great efficacy and fruitfulness of the baptism received over seventeen hundred years ago, together with the eloquent and holy sign of martyrdom, which has constantly accompanied the history of your people.” Francis turned to the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church, and acknowledged the steps that have been taken over the years under the pontificates of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Included among these are the consignment of the relic of Saint Gregory the Illuminator for the new Cathedral of Yerevan, and the joint declaration between St. John Paul II and Karekin II. “May the Holy Spirit help us to attain the unity for which our Lord prayed, so that his disciples may be one and the world may believe,” he said. The pontiff decried the divisions and conflicts in the world, along with “grave forms of material and spiritual poverty, including the exploitation of persons, not least children and the elderly.” “It expects from Christians a witness of mutual esteem and fraternal cooperation capable of revealing to every conscience the power and truth of Christ’s resurrection,” he said. Joint initiatives and cooperation in the context of a commitment to unity, therefore, serve the common good, the Pope said. “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.” He closed his address by invoking the intercession of Mary, St. Gregory the Illuminator, and doctor of the Church St. Gregory of Narek to “bless all of you and the entire Armenian nation.” The Francis' visit to Armenia comes a little over 100 years after the 1915 Armenian genocide, during which some 1.5 million Christians were killed by the Ottoman Empire, and millions more displaced. He is also the second pontiff to visit the Caucasus nation, after St. John Paul II's in 2001.

Pope Francis: Europe must ensure peaceful coexistence after Brexit

Yerevan, Jun 24, 2016 / 07:12 am (National Catholic Register).- Pope Francis has said the result of the U.K.’s referendum to leave the European Union reflects the “will of the people” and that there is now a “great responsibility” to ensure the well being of people in the U.K. and peaceful coexistence on continental Europe. Addressing reporters on the papal plane to Armenia, the Holy Father said he had only read basic information about the result of the vote just before leaving Rome, but said he felt it was “the will of the people”. “It demands great responsibility on our part,” he said, “to ensure the well being of the people in the United Kingdom, and the coexistence of the people on the European continent. As I expect.” The U.K. voted yesterday in a referendum to leave the European Union after 43 years as a member of the economic-political bloc. Before addressing the “Brexit” vote, the Pope also shared his reaction to the news yesterday that Colombia’s long internal conflict had come to an end. “I am happy about this news that came to me yesterday, after more than 50 years of war, of conflict, and much bloodshed,” he said. “I hope that the countries that work for peace keep it.” He wished the country well on its “next step.” The Pope arrived at 2:50 p.m. local time at Yerevan’s international airport after a four-hour flight from Rome. Immediately after arrival, the Holy Father was driven to the Apostolic Cathedral in Etchmiadzin where he is due to deliver the first discourse of his 14th visit outside Italy. Edward Pentin is the Rome Correspondent for the National Catholic Register. He is joining Pope Francis on the papal flight to Armenia.

There's no excuse for it: Pope Francis on the death penalty

Vatican City, Jun 22, 2016 / 04:37 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a video message sent Wednesday to a gathering of advocates for abolition of the death penalty, Pope Francis welcomed their efforts as a way to promote the right to life of all persons. “Nowadays the death penalty is unacceptable, however grave the crime of the convicted person,” the Pope said in his June 22 message to the Sixth World Congress against the Death Penalty, which is being held in Oslo this week. More than 1,000 people are in attendance from governments, international organizations, and society. Capital punishment “is an offence to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person,” Pope Francis continued. “It likewise contradicts God’s plan for individuals and society, and his merciful justice.” He expressed his “personal appreciation” to the participants for their “commitment to a world free of the death penalty.” That “public opinion is manifesting a growing opposition to the death penalty, even as a means of legitimate social defence,” he called a “sign of hope.” In addition to being offensive to the inviolability of human life, Pope Francis said that the death penalty is not “consonant with any just purpose of punishment.” “It does not render justice to victims, but instead fosters vengeance. The commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' has absolute value and applies both to the innocent and to the guilty.” Recalling the Jubilee of Mercy being celebrated currently, the Roman Pontiff said the year is “an auspicious occasion for promoting worldwide ever more evolved forms of respect for the life and dignity of each person.” “It must not be forgotten that the inviolable and God-given right to life also belongs to the criminal,” he exhorted. In addition to calling for an end to capital punishment, Pope Francis called on the participants to work for the improvement of prison conditions “so that they fully respect the human dignity of those incarcerated.” He reiterated that rendering justice “does not mean seeking punishment for its own sake, but ensuring that the basic purpose of all punishment is the rehabilitation of the offender.” The question of justice should be answered “within the larger framework of a system of penal justice open to the possibility of the guilty party’s reinsertion in society,” he said. “There is no fitting punishment without hope! Punishment for its own sake, without room for hope, is a form of torture, not of punishment.” Pope Francis' video message echoed earlier calls he has made for an end to the use of the death penalty. His immediate predecessors, Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II, also spoke out against its use in modern society. In a March 2015 letter to the president of the International Commission against the Death Penalty, Francis went so far as to say that “life imprisonment, as well as those sentences which, due to their duration, render it impossible for the condemned to plan a future in freedom, may be considered hidden death sentences, because with them the guilty party is not only deprived of his/her freedom, but insidiously deprived of hope." The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the death penalty may be used “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” However, it adds, such cases today “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

A martyr of the French revolution is almost a saint

Vatican City, Jun 22, 2016 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In just two days in early September of 1792, approximately 1,200 people were slaughtered by revolutionaries in France. Of the dead, approximately 200 were Roman Catholic priests and religious, most of whom were killed on Sept. 2 in the garden of a Carmelite monastery which had been captured and turned into a prison. On October 16, Pope Francis will canonize one of them – Blessed Solomon Leclercq. Blessed Solomon Leclercq was born Guillaume-Nicolas-Louis in Boulogne, France in 1745, the son of a wealthy wine merchant. In 1767, at 21 years old, he entered the novitiate of the Lasallian Brothers of the Christian Schools, a teaching order founded by Saint John Baptist de La Salle, and took the religious name Solomon. During his time in the community, he served as a teacher, as a director of novices, as a bursar for a school, and eventually as secretary to Brother Agathon, the Superior General of the order. He was known for his great love of people and his hard work. In 1790, with the French Revolution underway, the Civil Constitution of the Clergy gave the state complete control over the Church in France. The government began selling Church property and requiring all clergy and religious to make an oath to the government in order for their institutions to maintain their legal, operating status. Like many clergy at the time, most of the brothers of Blessed Solomon’s order refused to make the oath, forcing them to eventually abandon their schools and communities. For this reason, Blessed Solomon was forced to live alone in secrecy in Paris for a time, though he kept in touch with his family through letters, despite being monitored by the government. In August of 1792, the Legislative Assembly had closed all Catholic schools in Paris and outlawed the wearing of religious habits or vestments in public. Priests who had refused to take the oath required by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy were told to leave the country – and about 25,000 did. Blessed Solomon, still in Paris, wrote his last letter to his family on Aug. 15, 1792, and that same day he was arrested and imprisoned at the Hôtel des Carmes Carmelite monastery in Paris for refusing the oath. On Sept. 2, revolutionaries mobbed a transport of approximately 30 priests on their way to prison and killed them all. The mob continued on, and, armed with swords, stormed the Carmelite monastery and slaughtered Blessed Solomon and approximately 150 other priests and religious. The next day, Sept. 3, the revolutionaries continued on to a Lazarist seminary, where they killed most of the priests and students. The death tolls for what became known as the September Massacres range from 1,247 to 1,368 people. On Oct. 17, 1926, Pope Pius XI beatified Blessed Solomon as well as 188 Catholic martyrs who died during the September massacre. Solomon was the first martyr of his order, though he was soon joined by three others called the Brother martyrs of the hulks of Rochefort, who were also killed for their faith during the French Revolution. The feast day of all four of these martyred brothers is celebrated on Sept. 2. Normally in the process of canonization, two miracles attributed to the saint are needed – one for beatification, and one for canonization. However, the miracle necessary for beatification in the case of martyrs can be waived, since martyrdom itself is considered a miracle of grace. The miracle being attributed to the intercession of Blessed Solomon Leclercq, declared by the medical consultant of the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints and approved by Pope Francis, is the inexplicable cure of a Venezuelan girl who had been bitten by a venomous snake. On Oct. 16 of this year, Pope Francis will canonize Blessed Solomon Leclercq along with five other saints, including Manuel González García, a Bishop of Spain, Lodovico Pavoni, an Italian priest, Alfonso Maria Fusco, priest and founder of the Sisters of St. John the Baptist, and Elizabeth of the Trinity, a French carmelite nun considered a “spiritual sister” of St. Therese of Lisieux. Photo credit: www.shutterstock.com.

Pope delivers weekly catechesis alongside his 'brother' refugees

Vatican City, Jun 22, 2016 / 05:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Joined closely by just over a dozen refugees at his weekly public audience, Pope Francis said that in following Jesus’ example, the Christian excludes no one. “Jesus teaches us not to be afraid of touching the poor and the excluded, because he is in them,” said the Pope during his Wednesday audience catechesis in St. Peter’s Square. Just minutes prior to the pontiff’s arrival, after making the rounds in the Popemobile to bless and greet those present, he spontaneously invited 13 young refugees to join him on the stage before the public. They caught his attention with a banner that read “Refugees for a future together.”   As they sat cross-legged in a row, divided into groups on either side of him for the duration of the hour-long audience, Pope Francis referred to them as family. “They are our refugees, but so many consider them as excluded. Please, they are our brothers,” Pope Francis said to applause. “The Christian doesn’t exclude anyone, he gives a place to all, lets all come,” he continued. During the address, the pontiff said that in meeting a poor person, the reaction can be one of generosity and compassion, also offering a coin. “But, we avoid touching the hand. We throw it there. And we forget that it is the body of Christ!” “Touching the poor person can purify us from hypocrisy and make us concerned for their condition,” he added. Taking up again the theme of mercy during this week’s audience, Francis cited the evangelist St. Luke’s account of Jesus healing a faith-filled leper guided his catechesis. The Gospel passage tells the story of a man excluded by society and even prohibited from entering the city who enters anyway to seek out Jesus. He reaches out to Christ, saying: “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” In the Gospel account, the leper is healed when Jesus answers, “I do will it. Be made clean,” the Pope said, acclaiming the man’s great faith. “This faith is the strength that allowed him to break every convention and seek the meeting with Jesus,” Francis said. He explained that the leper’s plea shows that when reaching out to Christ, few words are necessary “when they are accompanied by full confidence in his omnipotence and goodness.” “Entrusting ourselves to the will of God means in fact putting ourselves back in his infinite mercy,” he said. The Pope let the audience in on a little secret, saying that he makes the leper’s prayer of “Lord, if you want to, you can make me clean” his own every night. “I pray five ‘Our Fathers’, one for each of the wounds of Christ because Jesus cleansed us with his wounds,” he said, inviting all to do the same before going to bed.   “Jesus always listens to us,” he added. Christ’s disposition in healing the leper and asking him to go quietly to a priest and bear witness to the facts shows us three things, said the Pope. First off, he explained, God’s grace doesn’t seek sensationalism but rather discretion, “patiently modeling our heart to the heart of the Lord.” Secondly, in asking the leper to register his healing with a priest, he is readmitting the leper to society, added Pope Francis. And finally, Jesus asks the man to bear witness to the miracle to the priest and thus the leper becomes a missionary. Concluding the audience, Pope Francis greeted the refugees who had joined him on the stage one by one, offering them a rosary. A representative of the group told CNA that the refugees are being assisted currently by the Catholic charity organization Caritas in Florence, Italy.

Who was Elizabeth of the Trinity? The story behind a new saint

Vatican City, Jun 21, 2016 / 03:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has announced the canonization date of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, a Carmelite nun of the 20th century who will be formally recognzied as a saint October 16. In March, the Pope had acknowledged a miracle worked through the intercession of Blessed Elizabeth, paving the way for her canonization. “The Lord has chosen to answer her prayers for us…before she died, when she was suffering with Addison's disease, she wrote that it would increase her joy in heaven if people ask for her help,” said Dr. Anthony Lilles, academic dean of St. John's Seminary in Camarillo. Lilles earned his doctorate in spiritual theology at Rome's Angelicum writing a dissertation on Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity. “If her friends ask for her help it would increase her joy in heaven: so it increases Elizabeth's joy when you ask her to pray for your needs,” he told CNA. "That's the first reason (to have devotion to her): the Church has recognized the power of her intercession." Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity was born in France in 1880, and grew up in Dijon close to the city's Carmelite monastery. Lilles recounted that when one time when Bl. Elizabeth visited the monastery when she was 17, “the mother superior there said, 'I just received this circular letter about the death of Therese of Lisieux, and I want you to read it.' That circular letter would later become the Story of a Soul; in fact, what she was given was really the first edition of Story of a Soul.” ...it was a lightning moment in her life, where everything kind of crystallized and she understood how to respond to what God was doing in her heart. “Elizabeth read it and she was inclined towards contemplative prayer; she was a very pious person who worked with troubled youth and catechized them, but when she read Story of a Soul she knew she needed to become a Carmelite: it was a lightning moment in her life, where everything kind of crystallized and she understood how to respond to what God was doing in her heart.” Elizabeth then told her mother she wanted to enter the Carmel, but she replied that she couldn't enter until she was 21, “which was good for the local Church,” Lilles explained, “because Elizabeth continued to work with troubled youth throughout that time, and do a lot of other good work in the city of Dijon before she entered.” She entered the Carmel in Dijon in 1901, and died there in 1906 – at the age of 26 – from Addison's disease. Elizabeth wrote several works while there, the best-known of which is her prayer “O My God, Trinity Whom I Adore.” Also particularly notable are her “Heaven in Faith,” a retreat she wrote three months before her death for her sister Guite; and the “Last Retreat,” her spiritual insights from the last annual retreat she was able to make. Cardinal Albert Decourtray, who was Bishop of Dijon from 1974 to 1981, was cured of cancer through Bl. Elizabeth's intercession – a miracle that allowed her beatification in 1984. The healing acknowledged by Pope Francis March 4 was that of Marie-Paul Stevens, a Belgian woman who had Sjögren's syndrome, a glandular disease. In 2002 Stevens “had asked Bl. Elizabeth to help her manage the extreme discomforts of the pathology she had, and in thanksgiving, because she felt like she had received graces … she travelled to the Carmelite monastery just outside Dijon,” Lilles said. “And when she got to the monastery, she was completely healed.” Lilles added that a second reason to have devotion to Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity is because she died “believing that she had a spiritual mission to help lead souls to a deeper encounter with Christ Jesus.” “You could call it contemplative prayer, or even mystical prayer. She said her mission was to lead souls out of themselves and into a great silence, where God could imprint himself in them, on their souls, so that they became more God-like.” In prayer, he said, “we make space for (God) to transform us more fully into the image and likeness he intended us to become, but which sin has marred. Contemplative prayer is a means towards this transformation, and Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity believed before she died that her spiritual mission would be to help souls enter into that kind of transformative, contemplative prayer, where they could become saints.” She understood that the way she loved souls all the way was to help them find and encounter the Lord. During her time in the Carmel of Dijon, Bl. Elizabeth found encouragement from the writings of St. Therese of Lisieux, particularly her “Offering to Merciful Love,” a prayer found in Story of a Soul, Lilles said: “You find references to the Offering to Merciful Love throughout the writings of Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity, it was probably something she herself prayed often.” “The second way that Elizabeth of the Trinity was influenced by Therese of Lisieux was a poem that St. Therese wrote called 'Living by Love'; in this poem Therese celebrates how the love of Jesus is the heartbeat, the deepest reality of her life, and because he lived to lay down his life for her, she wants to live to lay down her life for human love, which as the poem goes on, means loving all whom he sends her way, without reserve and all the way, giving people the generous love that we have received from Christ, sharing it with others.” “That idea deeply, deeply influenced Elizabeth of the Trinity and in fact inspired her own way of life and her own spiritual mission to help lead souls into mystical prayer,” Lilles reflected. “She understood that the way she loved souls all the way was to help them find and encounter the Lord.” “So, the spiritual missions of Therese of Lisieux and Elizabeth of the Trinity coincide: great theologians like Hans Urs von Balthasar recognized that. And these spiritual missions have both greatly influenced the Church in the 20th and early 21st centuries in very powerful ways.” “I'm so glad that Elizabeth has been recognized for her part in building up the Church in the 20th century.” An earlier version of this article was originally published on CNA March 8, 2016.

The world needs Christ more than ever, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Jun 19, 2016 / 05:12 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis said that with a growing sense of emptiness and insecurity gripping the world, Jesus Christ is needed more than ever before, since he alone knows how to answer humanity’s deepest questions. “The world needs Christ more than ever, needs his salvation and his merciful love,” the Pope said June 19. “Many people sense a void around and inside of them. Perhaps some of us too,” he said, noting that others “live in restlessness and insecurity because of precariousness and conflict.” Each person needs to have “adequate responses” to their deepest existential questions, he said, explaining that since “Jesus knows the heart of man like no other,” he is able to heal and to give life and consolation to humanity. Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Sunday Angelus address, which fell on same day as the opening of the June 19-26 Pan Orthodox Council in Crete. Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Dialogue, has been tapped to be the Vatican’s observer at the council. The Pope offered special greetings to the council participants, who also celebrated the solemnity of Pentecost – according to the Julian calendar – the day of the council’s opening. He asked in pilgrims to unite in prayer “with our brother orthodox, invoking the Holy Spirit so that he assists with his gifts the Patriarchs, archbishops and bishops united in the Council,” and led them in praying Hail Mary. In his speech before the Angelus, Francis focused on the day’s Gospel from Luke in which Jesus asks his disciples “Who do you say that I am?” – a question that Peter responds to with his declaration that Jesus is “the Christ of God.” Jesus’ question is being repeated to each one of us today, Francis said, and asked aloud “Who is Jesus for the people of our time? For me, for you, for you, for you. Who is Jesus for each one of us?” All of us are called “to make Peter’s response our response, professing with joy that Jesus is the Son of God, the eternal Word of the Father who became man to redeem mankind, pouring out upon him the abundance of divine mercy,” he said. The Pope then pointed to how after Jesus speaks to the apostles, he addresses the entire crowd, telling them that “if one of you wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.” This cross, Francis said, is not a mere “ornamental” or “ideological” cross, but rather consists of the daily sacrifices made for others – including parents, children, friends, relatives and even enemies – out of love. It also involves the adoption of an attitude of solidarity, especially with the poor, and of commitment to working for justice and peace. By assuming these attitudes, “you always lose something,” he said, but urged pilgrims to remember Jesus’ advice that “whoever loses their life (for Christ) will find it.” “Therefore, let us confidently abandon ourselves to him: Jesus, our brother, friend and savior,” Francis said, adding that Christ, through the Holy Spirit, gives us the strength to grow in faith and to act on what we believe, rather than saying one thing and doing another. He noted that the Virgin Mary “is always close to us and goes before us” on the path of faith, and prayed that all of us would take her hand “when we pass through the most dark and difficult moments.” After reciting the Angelus prayer, Pope Francis noted how tomorrow, June 20, marks the U.N.’s World Day of Refugees, which this year holds the theme: “With refugees. We are on the side of those forced to flee.” Refugees, he said, “are people like everyone else, but from whom war has taken their house, work, relatives and friends.” “Because of this we wish to be with them: to meet them, to welcome them, to listen to them, to become with them artisans of peace according to the will of God,” Francis said, and wished pilgrims a happy Sunday before asking for their prayers.

Christian persecution extends beyond genocide, Pope says

Rome, Italy, Jun 18, 2016 / 06:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).-   In a wide-ranging question and answer session on Saturday, Pope Francis said it is “reductionism” to describe the violence against Christians in the world; the correct word, he said, is persecution. “I want to say clearly, I do not like it when one speaks of a genocide of Christians, for instance in the Middle East,” the Pope said. “This is reductionism! The truth is a persecution which leads Christians to have fidelity to the consistency of their faith.” This “sociological reductionism” does not apply to “that which is a mystery of the faith, the martyr!” Francis made this remarks during his June 18 visit to the Villa Nazareth University College in Rome, during which he answered seven questions put to him by students on topics ranging from Christian persecution, to the economy, to being witnesses of the Gospel message. Addressing the issue of persecution during his evening visit to the campus, the Pope recalled the Coptic Christian martyrs who were killed on the beach in Libya, all of whom died saying “Jesus, help me!” While it was unlikely that these men were well-versed in theology, they nonetheless “were witnesses of the faith,” the pontiff said. However, such a bloody martyrdom -- as heroic as it is -- is not the only way of giving witness to the faith, the Pope said. Such martyrdom can be demonstrated everyday through honesty, the patient education of children, faithfulness to love, etc. Francis also praised the “martyrdom” of resisting the temptation to gossip, which he compared to a “terrorist bomb.” “The Christian witness is the martyrdom of every day, the martyrdom to remain silent.”  However, there is nonetheless joy in Jesus’ word, “like those on the beach of Libya . . . it takes courage! And courage is a gift of the Holy Spirit.” “Courage and patience” are two words St. Paul uses to describe the life of the Christian martyr, the Pope said: “the courage to go forward,” unashamed of being Christian, and with “the patience to carry the weight of every day,” including our own sufferings, sins, and instabilities. Pope Francis went on to stress the need for awareness of our sins in order to be healed by Christ. “We are sinners! Jesus has loved us, has healed us -- or, we are on the road to healing, always.” Answering another question, Pope Francis spoke about the notion of gratuity -- the practice of giving to others what we have received -- which he said is in “danger of disappearing.” Gratuity, the Pope said, stands against “individual gratification,” and the “culture of hedonism.” He made the distinction between working and taking advantage of others: in the “culture of work in many underdeveloped countries, there is the subsidy culture which helps, but does not teach (people) to work,” he said. St. Don Bosco, in contrast, worked with the poor living on the streets of Turin, and taught them basic skills to help them enter the workforce, he observed. “Work resembles God. It resembles God who is creator, the craftsman,” the pontiff said. It is a vocation in which we do not remain stalled, but move forward. Addressing the question put by one student about the need for a “credible witness” amid the complexities of life, Francis challenged them to have the courage to take risks. The need for a credible witness is “the logic of the Gospel: to give witness with your own life, in your way of living, in the choices made,” the Pope said. It is the “witness of us Christians, of Jesus Christ who is alive, who has accompanied us in suffering, has died for us but now lives.” The way to confront the challenges in the spheres of education and the emotional life is to have the courage to take risks, the pontiff said. “Take risks! He who does not take risks does not walk,” yet “you make more mistakes if you remain stationary,” he said. The Pope emphasized the importance of risk-taking, of getting our hands dirty like the Good Samaritan in the Gospel parable. “When we are in a life that is more or less calm, there is always the temptation of paralysis.” Another question addressed the economic crisis, which has been exacerbated by migration and the widespread shifting of demographics. In his answer, Pope Francis decried the culture which centers around a “god of money,” as well as the sale of arms which forces the mass migration currently being witnessed. In answer to a separate question, the Pope stressed the need for Christian communities to be more welcoming. “We are living in a civilization of locked doors and closed hearts. We defend ourselves from each other. This is mine. This is mine. Afraid to accept, afraid to accept…” This need to welcome does not only regard migrants, the pontiff stressed, but on a daily capacity. “A church with a closed door is a sign that the Christian community has a closed heart; it is locked up in itself. We must regain a sense of welcome.” Other topics addressed during the Q&A, which lasted about an hour included the effects of the “culture of the temporary” with regard to marriage, and a challenge to communities to now allow divisions among them.

Pope: Authentic conversion only comes from Christ

Vatican City, Jun 18, 2016 / 06:10 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Recognizing the needs of others is a sign of genuine conversion, which only happens when the heart is ready to be changed by Jesus, Pope Francis said Saturday. “True conversion happens when we welcome the gift of grace,” the Pope said during his catechesis for this month’s Jubilee Year of Mercy audience in St. Peter's Square. “A clear sign of its authenticity is that we recognize the needs of our brothers and sisters, and we are ready to meet them.” In off-the-cuff remarks, the pontiff spoke of the challenge many feel in the face of this need for conversion, and how only Jesus can bring about real change. “How often do we tell ourselves: I must change, I cannot continue like this. On this path, my life will not bear fruit. It will be a useless life, and I will not be happy.” “And Jesus is beside us with hand outstretched,” the pontiff said, and he tells us: “Come to me. I will do the work. I will change your heart. I will change your life. I will make you happy.” Francis challenged the crowds to say out loud whether they really believe that Jesus can bring about this change. Jesus “invites us to change our lives,” the Pope said. He, with the Holy Spirit, “plants in us the seed of this restlessness in order to change our lives a little bit for the better.” He challenged the faithful to respond to this invitation of the Lord, and not resist it: “Just open the door, and He will do all the rest. He does everything. But open wide the door so that he can heal us and carry us forward.” The June 18 gathering in St. Peter's Square was the latest in a series of special audiences for the Holy Year of Mercy, which are being held in addition to the weekly general audiences every Wednesday. The Jubilee of Mercy is an Extraordinary Holy Year that officially commenced December 8 – the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception – with the opening of the Holy Door in St. Peter's Basilica. It will close Nov. 20, 2016 with the Solemnity of Christ the King. Conversion and forgiveness of sins are two aspects of mercy, Pope Francis said during Saturday’s catechesis, which centered especially on the meaning of conversion. He noted how conversion is present throughout the Bible, and to convert -- according to the prophets -- means to return once again to the Lord. Jesus’ began his preaching with a call to repent and believe in the Gospel, and insisted on an “interior dimension of conversion” in which the whole person, “heart and mind,” became “a new creature, a new person,” Francis said. This call to conversion does not come from Jesus’ “judgement of people,” the pontiff continued, but from closeness, and a “sharing of the human condition,” be it on the street, in the home, at meals, etc. “The mercy toward those who needed to change their lives occurred with his loving presence, involving everyone in his history of salvation,” the Pope said. “Jesus won people over with kindness', with love.”