On April 12, 2015 Pope Francis led the Armenian Catholic-rite mass on the occasion of the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, in St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican. His Holiness honored the 100th anniversary of the slaughter of Armenians by calling it “the first genocide of the 20th century” and urging the international community to recognize it.
It is the first time that Pope was holding liturgy to honor victims of genocides. The liturgy was held with the Armenian Catholic clergy and included elements of the Armenian Catholic rite.
The ceremony was attended by President Serzh Sargsyan, Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia Aram I, Armenian archbishops and bishops, high ranking officials, representatives of the Armenian community.
Below is the official Vatican-provided translation of Pope Francis’ address to the Armenian Rite faithful during Mass on Divine Mercy in St. Peter’s Basilica.
“On a number of occasions I have spoken of our time as a time of war, a third world war which is being fought piecemeal, one in which we daily witness savage crimes, brutal massacres and senseless destruction. Sadly, today too we hear the muffled and forgotten cry of so many of our defenceless brothers and sisters who, on account of their faith in Christ or their ethnic origin, are publicly and ruthlessly put to death – decapitated, crucified, burned alive – or forced to leave their homeland.
Today too we are experiencing a sort of genocide created by general and collective indifference, by the complicit silence of Cain, who cries out: “What does it matter to me? Am I my brother’s keeper?” (cf. Gen 4:9; Homily in Redipuglia, 13 September 2014).
In the past century our human family has lived through three massive and unprecedented tragedies. The first, which is widely considered “the first genocide of the twentieth century” (John Paul II and Karekin II, Common Declaration, Etchmiadzin, 27 September 2001), struck your own Armenian people, the first Christian nation, as well as Catholic and Orthodox Syrians, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Greeks. Bishops and priests, religious, women and men, the elderly and even defenceless children and the infirm were murdered. The remaining two were perpetrated by Nazism and Stalinism. And more recently there have been other mass killings, like those in Cambodia, Rwanda, Burundi and Bosnia. It seems that humanity is incapable of putting a halt to the shedding of innocent blood. It seems that the enthusiasm generated at the end of the Second World War has dissipated and is now disappearing. It seems that the human family has refused to learn from its mistakes caused by the law of terror, so that today too there are those who attempt to eliminate others with the help of a few and with the complicit silence of others who simply stand by. We have not yet learned that “war is madness”, “senseless slaughter” (cf. Homily in Redipuglia, 13 September 2014).
Dear Armenian Christians, today, with hearts filled with pain but at the same time with great hope in the risen Lord, we recall the centenary of that tragic event, that immense and senseless slaughter whose cruelty your forebears had to endure. It is necessary, and indeed a duty, to honour their memory, for whenever memory fades, it means that evil allows wounds to fester. Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it!
I greet you with affection and I thank you for your witness.
With gratitude for his presence, I greet Mr Ser Sargsyan, the President of the Republic of Armenia.
My cordial greeting goes also to my brother Patriarchs and Bishops: His Holiness Kerekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians; His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, His Beatitude Nerses Bedros XIX, Patriarch of Cilicia of Armenian Catholics; and Catholicosates of the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Patriarchate of the Armenian Catholic Church.
In the firm certainty that evil never comes from God, who is infinitely good, and standing firm in faith, let us profess that cruelty may never be considered God’s work and, what is more, can find absolutely no justification in his Holy Name. Let us continue this celebration by fixing our gaze on Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, victor over death and evil!”
Armenian Church hymns were sung during the entirety of the mass, with the traditional Armenian duduk making its first ever appearance in St. Peter’s Basilica. Children dressed in traditional costumes presented the gifts at the altar, which was bathed in a cloud of incense.
At the end of the Mass, a requiem was held for the souls of the 1.5 million Armenians who perished during the genocide led by His Beautitude Nerses Bedros XIX, His Holiness Karekin II and His Holiness Aram I. All three Armenian Church leaders made concluding speeches.
During the Mass, Francis also honored the Armenian community at the start of the Mass by pronouncing a 10th-century Armenian mystic, St. Gregory of Narek, a doctor of the church. Only 35 people have been given the title, which is reserved for those whose writings have greatly served the universal church.
His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians was the first to offer his remarks at the end of the Papal Mass. He said that the centuries-old friendship of the two churches was significant and thanked Pope Francis for his solidarity in brotherhood. He said that humanity was not able to stop the Armenian Genocide nor condemn it, and as a result had to bear witness to more genocides. His Holiness went on to say that in this 100th year, the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, its condemnation and restitution is an imperative for the world.
His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia also offered his remarks. “In fact, the Armenian Genocide is an unforgettable and undeniable fact of history, deeply rooted in the annals of modern history and in the common consciousness of the Armenian people, therefore any attempt to erase it from history and our common memory is doomed to fail. In fact in 1915, 1.5 million Armenians were victims of a genocide carefully planned and systematically executed by the Ottoman Empire of the time. Not only did we lose 1.5 million Armenians, but thousands of Armenian monasteries, churches, community centers, objects of spiritual and cultural immense value were destroyed, lost or confiscated. They still remain confiscated, including the Armenian Catholicosate in Sis. We cannot forget this first genocide of the 20th century this crime against humanity.
Your Holiness, according to international law, genocide is a crime against humanity and international sets out clearly that condemnation, recognition and reparation of genocide are closely linked. The Armenian cause is a cause of justice and as we well know, justice is not human made, it’s a gift of God, therefore the violation of justice is a sin against God.
On the centenary of the Armenian Genocide, our martyrs today challenge us to reaffirm our commitment to justice and human dignity and human rights.” His Holiness went on to say that during the Genocide, Pope Benedict XV made countless calls to halt the atrocities being realized against the Armenian nation. “We never forget the continuous assistance and solidarity of the Church towards the Armenians, that is to say towards justice.”
His Beautitude Nerses Bedros XIX addressed the congregation in Italian. He said that at the conclusion of this emotional Papal Mass, where St. Gregory of Narek was proclaimed as Doctor of the Church, “all of us present, in particular the Armenian faithful, are full of gratitude.” All those who have read the pages of Narek, he said, will be filled with the spirit and soul of Narek, who lived and worked in the 10th century. He said that the Armenians were victims of the Genocide because of their Christian faith.