The Pope is getting ready to go to Armenia, in what may prove to be the most significant visit of his pontificate, God willing. He has sent, today, a video message to the Armenian people, which has been broadcast on Armenian state television, details of which can be found here.
In addition, the Vatican has published the Pope’s programme in the country, which can be seen here.
So what exactly is so important about all this?
First of all, Armenia, and the Armenian people, both in Armenia and in the worldwide Armenian diaspora, are extremely important, as they represent the first nation on earth to embrace the Christian religion, something they did a few years before Constantine was converted.
Moreover, they are representatives of an ancient culture, and a rare witness of fidelity to the Gospel through the centuries, suffering untold persecution and many martyrdoms in the process. The Pope has repeatedly stressed this, by recognising St Gregory of Narek as a Doctor of the Universal Church, and by paying tribute to the martyrs of the Armenian genocide of 1915.
Secondly, this Pope, in continuity with all his predecessors, wishes to promote Christian unity. It is extremely significant that his visit will include numerous meetings with the Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Karekin II, whom the Pope has already met twice before now. These encounters will include meetings for prayer and participation in the Liturgy of the Church.
In his message the Pope speaks of the “path to full unity” and “strengthening our communion”; in other words we already enjoy a degree of unity and communion, and we are on the way towards the fullness of both. Moreover, this is a realistic prospect. Unlike the case of the Eastern Orthodox, some of whom are currently meeting in Crete, the Armenian Apostolic Church does not seem to have similar inherited problems with the Church of Rome. Unity with the Armenians would be a huge step forward, and an important milestone on the road to restoration of unity between East and West.
God, we know, does not have favourites, but Armenia must have a special place in His heart. This was the place where Noah’s Ark came to rest, and where the dove came back with an olive branch in its beak: how fitting if from Armenia were to come the first signs of the restoration of ecclesial peace.
Quite a few Armenians from the diaspora have flown to Yerevan for the papal visit. They clearly think it worth the journey. May the hopes and expectations of this happy occasion bear fruit both now and in the future!