Pope is bringing message of peace for Armenia and surrounding region

Published 8:37 am Friday, June 24, 2016

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is bringing a message of peace and solidarity to Armenia as it marks the centennial of the Ottoman-era slaughter of Armenians that Francis himself has called a “genocide.” But he may sidestep the politically charged word as he broadens his concern about current atrocities against Christians across the region and beyond.

Francis has frequently denounced the slaughter of Christians by Islamic extremists across the Middle East, saying the indiscriminate attacks against religious minorities is an “ecumenism of blood” — a martyrdom shared by Christians no matter their confession. Recently, he said he prefers to use the term “martyrdom” over “genocide” when describing the persecution of Christians.

Attention then will be on Francis’ first major speech, to be delivered to President Serzh Sargsyan and Armenian officials at the presidential palace in the capital, Yerevan, on Friday evening.

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Upon his arrival Friday afternoon, the pope was welcomed by the president and the Oriental Orthodox patriarch of the Apostolic Church, Karekin II, on the tarmac, where he was serenaded by a girls’ choir. The three men then walked behind a goose-stepping military official along a red carpet and into the airport VIP lounge.

As Francis rode off in a white four-door Renault, his motorcade was cheered by children wearing white T-shirts and yellow neck scarves, in the Vatican colors, and holding a sign in Italian saying “Armenia welcomes Pope Francis.”

The pope caps his first day with a visit to the seat of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Etchmiadzin, where he will stay as a guest of the patriarch.

Over the following three days, Francis will pray at Armenia’s genocide memorial, release a dove of peace near Armenia’s closed border with Turkey and pray for peace during an ecumenical prayer service with Karekin.

The Vatican has long cheered the Armenian cause, holding up the poor nation of 3 million mostly Orthodox Christians as a bastion of faith and martyrdom in a largely Muslim region, and the first nation that established Christianity as a state religion in 301.