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Pope in Armenia: Address during Ecumenical Prayer Vigil for Peace

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On Saturday, June 25, 2016, following the conclusion of Mass, Pope Francis attended an Ecumenical Prayer Vigil for Peace in Yerevan. Below, find the full text of his address:

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!).


CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pope in Prayer: Homily During Mass at Gyumri

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On Saturday, June 25, 2016, Pope Francis continued his first Aposotlic Visit to Armenia with the celebration Holy Mass in Gyumri. Below, find the full text of his homily:

“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).

Following the conclusion of Mass, Pope Francis gave the following address:

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.


CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pope In Armenia: Prayer at Armenian Metz Yeghern memorial in Tzitzernakaberd

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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.


CNS photo/Paul Haring

Behind Vatican Walls: Pope Francis in Armenia

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Pope Francis landed in Armenia this Friday for a weekend visit that includes a stop at the Armenian Genocide Memorial, his participation in a Divine Liturgy in the Armenian rite, and a visit to the Khor Virap monastery not far from the Turkish border.

The first item on the papal itinerary was a visit to the Apostolic Cathedral of Yerevan. Armenian Catholicos Karekin II and Pope Francis prayed Psalm 121 together, before turning to the formal greetings.

Addressing the Catholicos and Armenian Apostolic clergy, Pope Francis said, “I bow before the mercy of the Lord who willed that Armenia should become, in the year 301, the first nation to accept Christianity as its religion” at a time when religious persecution was rampant. The pope added “May the Lord bless you for the luminous testimony.”

Turning his attention to ecumenical relations between the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church, the pope said “when our actions are prompted by the power of Christ’s love, understanding and reciprocal esteem grow, a fruitful ecumenical journey becomes possible.”

From there Pope Francis went on to the presidential palace for a courtesy meeting with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan. He recalled the anniversary of Armenia’s independence, and the liturgy celebrated at the Vatican by Catholicos Karekin II to commemorate the 150th anniversary of what Armenians refer to as “the great evil.” Pope Francis used the Armenian phrase “Metz Yeghern.”

The pope reiterated his admiration for the way, in the darkest moments of their history, Armenians found the strength to carry on in the cross of Christ.

The first day of the pope’s Armenian voyage concluded with a private meeting between Pope Francis and Catholicos Karekin II.

Watch this week’s episode of Vatican Connections below!


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Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.

Pope in Armenia: Address to Civil Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps

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On Friday, June 24, following his visit to the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral, Pope Francis met with the President of Armenia in Yerevan. After his private meeting with President Serzh Sargsyan, the Holy Father gave the follow address to the civil authorities and the diplomatic corps.

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. It is so sad that – in this as in the others – the great powers looked the other way.

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 that look to the future.

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 Christian 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 Ashotsk, 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.

 


CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pope In Armenia: Visit to the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral

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On Friday, June 24, Pope Francis arrived in Armenia for his 14th Apostolic Visit, the first one to Armenia. Below, find the official translation of Pope Francis’ speech in the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral:

Address of His Holiness Pope Francis
Visit to the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral
Etchmiadzin, 24 June 2016

Venerable Brother,
Supreme Patriarch-Catholicos of All Armenians,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It is very moving for me to have crossed the threshold of this holy place, a witness to the history of your people and the centre from which its spirituality radiates. I consider it a precious gift of God to be able to approach the holy altar from which the light of Christ shone forth in Armenia. I greet the Catholicos of All the Armenians, His Holiness Karekin II, with heartfelt thanks for his gracious invitation to visit Holy Etchmiadzin, and all the Archbishops and Bishops of the Armenian Apostolic Church. I thank you for your cordial and joyful welcome. Thank you, Your Holiness, for having welcomed me into your home. This sign of love eloquently bespeaks, better than any words can do, the meaning of friendship and fraternal charity.

On this solemn occasion, I give thanks to the Lord for the light of faith kindled in your land, the faith that has given Armenia its 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. I bow before the mercy of the Lord, who willed that Armenia should become, in the year 301, the first nation to accept Christianity as its religion, at a time when persecutions still raged throughout the Roman Empire.

For Armenia, faith in Christ has not been like a garment to be donned or doffed as circumstances or convenience dictate, but 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. As Saint John Paul II wrote: “With the ‘baptism’ of the Armenian community… the people acquired a new identity that was to become a constitutive and inseparable part of Armenian life. It would no longer be possible to think that faith did not figure as an essential element among the components of this identity” (Apostolic Letter for the 1700th Anniversary of the Baptism of the Armenian People [2 February 2001], 2). May the Lord bless you for this luminous testimony of faith. It 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.

I also thank the Lord for the journey that the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church have undertaken through sincere and fraternal dialogue for the sake of coming to share fully in the Eucharistic banquet. 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. I gladly recall the decisive impulse given to developing closer relations and strengthening dialogue between our two Churches in recent years by Their Holinesses Vasken I and Karekin I, and by Saint John Paul II and by Benedict XVI. As significant stages of this ecumenical engagement, I would mention: the commemoration of the Witnesses to the Faith in the twentieth century during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000; the consignment to Your Holiness of the relic of the Father of Christian Armenia, Saint Gregory the Illuminator, for the new Cathedral of Yerevan; the Joint Declaration of His Holiness John Paul II and Your Holiness, signed here in Holy Etchmiadzin; and the visits which Your Holiness has made to the Vatican for important events and commemorations.

Tragically, our world is marked by divisions and conflicts, as well as by 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. The patient and enduring commitment to full unity, the growth of joint initiatives and cooperation between all the Lord’s disciples in service to the common good: all these are like a radiant light in a dark night and a summons to experience even our differences in an attitude of charity and mutual understanding. The spirit of ecumenism takes on an exemplary value also outside of the visible confines of the ecclesial community; it represents for everyone a forceful appeal to settle divergences with dialogue and appreciation for all that unites us. It also prevents the exploitation and manipulation of faith, for 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. In this way, 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. We offer a credible witness that God is love and mercy.

Dear brothers and sisters, when our actions are prompted by the power of Christ’s love, understanding and reciprocal esteem grow, 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. May Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, through the intercession of Mary Most Holy, Saint Gregory the Illuminator, “pillar of light for the Holy Church of the Armenians”, and Saint Gregory of Narek, Doctor of the Church, bless all of you and the entire Armenian nation. May he preserve you always in the faith you received from your ancestors, and to which you have borne glorious witness throughout the ages.


CNS photo/Paul Haring

Let Us Go up to Jerusalem With Jesus

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Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – June 26, 2016

In the opening words of today’s Gospel, Luke clearly states where Jesus is headed. He is going up to Jerusalem where, as we heard predicted in last Sunday’s Gospel, he will be put to death.

Without a doubt, Jesus speaks forcefully to us about the call to discipleship, of following him. He invites all of those he meets along the way to follow him, and there are many and varied responses to this invitation. Some will not even listen to him (i.e. the Samaritans) because they are prejudiced against the one who issues the invitation. Others respond to the invitation without fully realizing what it entails.

Discipleship is a total commitment, and Jesus wants us to know from the beginning that following him will lead to the Cross.

Luke’s travel narrative

Luke’s journey narrative is based on Mark 10:1-52, but his Marcan source is only used in Luke 18:15-19:27. Before that point he has inserted into his Gospel a distinctive collection of sayings of Jesus and stories about him that he has drawn from “Q” – a collection of sayings of Jesus used also by Matthew – and from his own special traditions.

Much of the material in the Lucan travel narrative is teaching for the disciples. During the course of this journey Jesus is preparing his chosen Galilean witnesses for the role they will play after his exodus (Luke 9:31): they are to be his witnesses to the people (Acts 10:39; 13:31) and thereby provide certainty to the readers of Luke’s Gospel that the teachings they have received are rooted in the teachings of Jesus (Luke 1:1-4).

Just as the Galilean ministry began with a rejection of Jesus in his hometown, so too the travel narrative begins with his rejection by the Samaritans (9:51-55). In this episode Jesus disassociates himself from the attitude expressed by his disciples that those who reject him are to be severely punished. The story alludes to 2 Kings 1:10, 12 where the prophet Elijah takes the course of action Jesus rejects. In so doing Jesus rejects the identification of himself with Elijah.

Christian discipleship is severe

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of the severity and the unconditional nature of Christian discipleship (9:57-62). Even family ties and filial obligations, such as burying one’s parents, cannot distract one no matter how briefly from proclaiming the kingdom of God.

Discipleship requires a wholehearted commitment to the Lord and a generous spirit of service toward his people. The demands are severe. Jesus says unambiguously: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (9:62).

The people of Jesus’ time understood this agrarian imagery. The farmer has to keep his eyes fixed straight ahead, otherwise the neatly organized field required for planting would be turned into a chaotic nightmare at harvesting time. The demand sounds harsh, especially when Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their own dead” (9:60). This is not disrespect for our deceased, but simply a realization that we must live without regret over the past. If we keep our eye on the present, then the fields of our lives will have the grace and freshness of newly plowed spring fields. Our lives will hold great promise for a rich harvest.

Luke also uses the journey motif to teach something about the road that Christians must walk. It is similar to the road Jesus himself journeyed, involving gross misunderstanding and rejection and requiring a great deal of internal strength and energy.

To be a disciple of Jesus requires total commitment on our part. It involves homelessness, not really belonging anywhere. To belong to Jesus must supersede all other obligations. The journey is final, its consequences ultimate. To be called does not require our perfection. Elijah, Elisha, the prophets of Israel, the fishermen of Galilee, and even the tax collectors that Jesus called were certainly not summoned because of their qualifications or achievements. Paul says that Jesus calls “the foolish,” so that the wise will be shamed (1 Corinthians 1:27). Our discipleship of Jesus must be much more than staying with him in Bethlehem, Nazareth, Bethany, Bethsaida, Capernaum, or atop Mount Tabor. It must also include being with him in Jerusalem, in Gethsemane, on Calvary.

There is no possibility of a lukewarm response; the Gospel requires all or nothing. The disciples speak the ultimate message of the Lord, “Say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’” (Luke 10:9). As signs of victory over evil, the disciples have spectacular powers, demonstrating the awesome power of God. They are to rejoice, though not in the power of God active in them or even in the success of their message: joy comes from the promise of life that has been given to them.

We are today’s disciples. Our mandate is the same: to speak by our words and deeds the love of our God, and most of all, to rejoice, because he has called us and gifted us with such abundant life.

Let’s go

Today’s Gospel also invites us to reflect on journeying with Jesus in his own land, up to the Holy City of Jerusalem, not only in our Christian lives as disciples, but also as pilgrims in history. Beginning today and continuing next Sunday, I would like to offer some reflections on the meaning of pilgrimage or holy journey.

The phenomenon of the “holy journey” was known a long time before the Christian era and precedes even the Jewish tradition of pilgrimages. Devotional trips have always been related to the ancient reality of “holy places” or “sanctuaries.” Such destinations were considered sacred because they acknowledged the presence of a superior power that subsequently became an object of worship. In ancient times people journeyed individually as well as collectively to the “shrines” where they performed special acts of worship for devotional, penitential, or votive reasons.

It is very likely that in the first three centuries Christians did not make pilgrimages to the Holy Land if we understand them as devotional journeys toward a holy place. It seems that the reluctant attitude towards pilgrimages in early Christianity was basically due to two factors: political and religious. The lack of recognition of Christianity, which was practically an underground life in most of the Roman Empire, was a highly discouraging fact in the recognition and veneration of holy places.

From the writings of Justin Martyr, a Christian apologist from the second century, we learn that despite the widespread pagan custom of making therapeutic pilgrimages to the sanctuaries of Aesclepius, Christians did not exercise a similar practice because Christ was the unique healer of bodies and souls. Though these myriad factors portray a rather negative attitude of the first Christians towards Holy Land pilgrimages, we do have some information pointing to sporadic journeys. Those journeys however appear to be classified more as scholarly trips than as pilgrimages.

Tracing the footsteps

The first, as far as we know, was made in 160 AD by Bishop Melito of Sardis. He wanted to acquire some details about the names and order of the books of the Old Testament. Another scholarly trip was made by Origen when he came from Alexandria to the Holy Land circa 235 AD. Before settling down in Caesarea, he decided to retrace “the footsteps of the prophets, Jesus, and the Apostles.”

Probably the first attested pilgrim in the actual sense of the word dates back to the year 216 AD, when a bishop of Cappadocia, Alexander (a future bishop of Jerusalem), arrived in Jerusalem to “pray and know the holy sites.” Therefore, in the first three centuries, besides a few sporadic cases, we cannot talk about the practice of pilgrimages neither to the Holy Land nor to any other places.

The scenario shifted quite drastically after the year 313 when Christianity obtained the status of the legal religion of the Empire. The Golden Age of the Holy Land had begun. The Holy Land itinerary inspired all other devotional journeys. It seems that the desire to experience the biblical sites overshadowed the previous reluctant attitude towards pilgrimages. In fact, many people enthusiastically and courageously overcame the hardships and risks of long and perilous travel in order to embark on a holy and exciting trip toward the earthly homeland of the Lord.

Eusebius of Caesarea, a fourth-century Christian historian, portrayed Helena, the mother of the first Christian emperor, as the noblest of all Holy Land pilgrims. Eusebius asserts that Constantine wished to be baptized in the river Jordan like Christ. We unfortunately do not know if the emperor’s desire was fulfilled and whether he came to the land of the Bible. The Emperor Constantine and his mother Helena played very important roles in the life and history of God’s land.

These reflections on the Holy Lands are continued in the reflection for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

[The readings for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, are: 1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21; Galatians 5:1, 13-18; and Luke 9:51-62.]

(Image: Jesus Goes Up to Jerusalem by James Tissot)

Statement from Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto on passing of Bill C-14 – legalization of euthanasia/assisted suicide

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CNS photo/Art Babych

Euthanasia comes to Canada 

“There are two ways, the way to life and the way to death, and there is a great difference between them.” These wise words from an ancient Christian writer come to mind as we mark Parliament’s enactment of the law implementing the Supreme Court’s decision on euthanasia and assisted suicide, which is a fundamentally misguided decision.

Though I do not question the good intentions of either judges or legislators, their decisions have set our country down a path that leads not simply, and obviously, towards physical death for an increasing number of our fellow citizens, but towards a grim experience for everyone in our society of the coldness of spiritual death. That death is found in a loss of respect for the dignity of the human person, in a deadening pressure upon the vulnerable to be gone, and in an assault upon the sanctuary of conscience to be suffered by good individuals and institutions who seek only to heal.

To those who are grievously suffering in body or spirit and who desperately seek relief: we need to be sure that you receive it, through whatever medical means are available, and through the loving care that you deserve. The question is not whether you need relief; it is how to find it. Suicide is not the answer to the very real question you face.

Some may be consoled by the fact that the law could be worse: there are some “safeguards” protecting the vulnerable, and there is some conscience protection. Any thankfulness for these positive elements must, however, be set against the fact that in other places where euthanasia has been introduced, it has always been cloaked with “safeguards” that lull the citizens into complacency. Over the years those “safeguards” gradually weaken and finally drop away, and then the full hard cold force of euthanasia is felt. Here is a chilling fact: despite the confidence of the Supreme Court justices that Canada is different from those jurisdictions, in only slightly more than a year since their decision, the “safeguards” are already under vigorous attack.

The deepest roots of this malign development in the history of our country are spiritual, and so in the weeks to come I will be suggesting ways to address them through prayer and penance.

Our broader society also needs to engage in the necessary but lengthy process of reflection upon the dire implications for every aspect of our life together when we lose the fundamental ability to distinguish between dying and being killed. We all need to recognize the profound moral significance of that distinction.

We also need to recognize the destructive consequences of reducing the dignity of the human person to a matter of autonomy, when actually it is our loving inter-dependence, not our independence, which sustains our dignity. In addition, we must not reduce worthiness to live to a matter of the ability to function according to some personally acceptable standard of performance. We must address these and the other shaky foundations for the judicial and legislative actions which are taking us down a path to nowhere. That will take time, and a persistent effort to raise and resolve these deeper issues, with clarity and charity. Life, however, is a marathon, not a sprint; our enterprise is begun and, founded upon both reason and faith, it will succeed, in due time.

Meanwhile, we need to take immediate steps.

First, we need to make available for all Canadians (not just 30% of us) real medical assistance in dying: palliative care, where people who are dying are surrounded with love, and where any pain they experience is countered with the most advanced medical care available.

Second, we need to speak forthrightly. When people feel compelled to use language in a way that does not reveal what is actually happening, but instead conceals it, it is a sign that something is radically wrong (and they know it). The now officially accepted terminology, such as “Medical Assistance in Dying” does not describe medical assistance in dying; it describes killing. Let us say what we mean, and mean what we say.

Finally, we need to assure that those individuals who have dedicated their lives to healing will not be pressured into either directly causing the death of their patients, or into arranging for this to happen. Similarly, we must assure that those health care institutions which are havens of hope, in a tradition whose noble roots long predate Confederation, will in no way be forced to violate their conscience (known as their “mission”).

“Lord, teach us the shortness of life, that we may gain wisdom of heart.” – Psalm 90:12

Deacon-structing WYD: The Kingdom of God

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Often, when I speak to young people, I’ll start by asking where they are from: Is there anyone here from Ottawa or Quebec? How about anyone from the States? This usually gets the groups cheering as I call out their home town. But when I ask, “who is from the Kingdom of Heaven?” not everyone puts up their hand. And that’s exactly my point: Not all of us think we are worthy to belong to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Let me explain: If we are all sons and daughters of God, made in the image of God, then, by definition, we are members of the family of God. And if we are members of the family of God, then we belong in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is the Kingdom of Heaven. Get it?

And who lives in the Kingdom of Heaven? The Saints, right? So, if we belong to the Kingdom of Heaven, then, by logical deduction, we are saints. All of us!

It’s true. You may not like the idea that you are being created to be a saint, but you are. The calling is not to be something that we are not; the calling is to say “yes” to that for which we are created. Saint John Paul II already told us: “Do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium.”

Me too. I’m just an ordinary Catholic, from an ordinary Panamanian family. I belonged to a youth group and Church choir. Even when I left home at age 16, I continued to go to Mass on Sundays. I never really strayed from the Church. I can’t say that I understood Church teachings, but I never really doubted the Faith. Still, like many other “ordinary” Catholics, although I’d always been in the Church and I always “followed” Jesus Christ, I had never had a real close personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Well, I’d had them, I just hadn’t recognised them.

Why? Because having a personal encounter with Christ almost always leads to a calling. Yes, I’d had encounters, but none had really led to a calling, until I came to work at the National Office for the World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto.

I was the Artistic Director for WYD 2002, in charge of all artistic programming for the event: all music, dance and dramatic expression. For the Youth Festival we coordinated the participation of almost 200 groups, from 35 different countries, in eight different languages, with a total of some 400 performances. I also coordinated the production of the official WYD 2002 Souvenir CD album and all the dance and music for all the main events with Pope John Paul II. It was an unforgettable experience filled with many blessings. I’ve never been so busy nor have I slept so little! But, at the same time, I never felt super stressed, nor that the whole world was caving in. I never lost hope. I always knew that this was God’s work and that He was in charge. And it was in that small detail, that something inside of me changed.

I worked 20 months for the WYD 2002 Office – for me that was a time of many challenges and frustrations, yet at the same time, of incredible peace and joy. My experience with WYD was one of the Beatitudes: Blessed are the frustrated, those who have no money, those who don’t have enough time in the day and too much work to do… Blessed are those who are hungry. Blessed are those who got lost and never made it to their Catechesis sessions – those who didn’t eat because the food ran out, those who were dirty, wet, sleepy, cold or too hot, suffering from sun stroke – Blessed are those who were dehydrated… Those who had to raise thousands of dollars to buy a plane ticket only to have their visa applications denied… Blessed are they, for the Kingdom of God is theirs.

In just about a month, hundreds of thousands of young people will be traveling to Krakow, Poland for the 30th WYD. But why? Why spend so much money and travel so far? Why go through the discomfort of crowds, only to end up so far away from the stage or a screen and not see anything – why get soaked in the rain and be hungry? Why all this suffering? Why were we called to “make the streets resound with the joy and love of Christ”? Can’t we be salt and light right here at home without going to World Youth Day?

Over the next few weeks I will be sharing with you why World Youth Day came about and why it is so important for our Church, so keep coming back. Next week, “The Beginning.”


Photo Credit: Mexican pilgrims march down Atlantic Avenue along Copacabana beach for the the opening Mass of World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro July 23, 2013. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)


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Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org

We can, we should, and we must: A call to hope for our Common Home

Common Home cropped

Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter Laudato Sì: Reflecting One Year Later

In May 2006, former US Vice President Al Gore released the groundbreaking documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” While climate change debate has continued ever since, while concrete solutions seem to drip slower than maple sap in March. The question remains: are we willing to deal with this inconvenient but vital truth?

One year ago tomorrow, Pope Francis called humanity to a virtue that scarcely appeared in the environmental discourse of our era: hope. His landmark encyclical Laudato Sì on Care for our Common Home was a striking reminder that we can do something, we should do something, and we must do something. “Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home,” the Pope states (no. 13). “Hope would have us recognize that there is always a way out, that we can always redirect our steps, that we can always do something to solve our problems… Still,” the Pope admits, “we can see signs that things are now reaching a breaking point” (no. 61).

What are Francis’ proposals faced with such a breaking point? His first recommendation is “a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (no. 14). Science, religion, indigenous peoples, and the international community – every stratus of the human family has a role to play in this universal exchange with universal consequences.

But genuine change cannot be driven only at a societal level. The effectiveness of laws and regulations is limited, even when properly enforced. What is needed instead is a “selfless ecological commitment” on the part of the individual women and men of our time. Using less heating and wearing warmer clothing, the avoidance of disposable products, the reduction of water usage, recycling, purchasing and preparing a reasonable amount of food, turning off lights: “We must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world. They benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread” (no. 212).

For Pope Francis, caring for our environment also entails caring for one another. How could we care for the family home without caring for our brothers and sisters, and vice versa? “We are always capable of going out of ourselves towards the other.” We must concern ourselves with “caring for things for the sake of others,” restraining our consumption “to avoid the suffering of others or the deterioration of our surroundings.” Spurning self-centeredness and self-absorption in favour of “disinterested concern for others… [is] essential if we truly wish to care for our brothers and sisters and for the natural environment” (208).

What is the inconvenient truth? Things are not as they should be and something must be done. The question remains: what are we going to do about it? The truth is, there is still hope that we can.