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Pope Francis to visit Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, Vatican confirms

Pope Francis at Rome's Fiumicino International before leaving for Ecuador in July 2015 (AP)

Pope Francis will travel to Armenia in late June and to Georgia and Azerbaijan in the autumn, the Vatican has announced.

The Armenia trip from June 24-26 comes in response to an invitation from the patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Karekin II, and from the government, the Vatican said. Travelling to Georgia and Azerbaijan from September 30-October 2, the Pope is accepting an invitation from Georgian Patriarch Ilia II and the governments of the two nations, the Vatican said.

Announcing the trips, the Vatican did not provide details of the Pope’s itinerary. Releasing the dates of both trips at the same time was seen as a diplomatic necessity given the ongoing dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave in Azerbaijan.

The ethnic Armenian majority of Nagorno-Karabakh voted in 1988 to unify with Armenia. Fighting continued until a cease-fire was reached in 1994, although the enclave’s status was never fully resolved. Sporadic fighting has occurred since, most recently from April 1-3.

In all three nations, Pope Francis will be the second pope to visit. St John Paul II visited Armenia in 2001, Georgia in 1999 and Azerbaijan in 2002.

According to Vatican statistics, Catholics make up about 9.6 per cent of the population in Armenia, about 2.4 per cent of the population in Georgia and less than 1 per cent of the population in Azerbaijan. Almost 97 per cent of the population in Azerbaijan is Muslim. The majority in Armenia are Oriental Orthodox and in the majority in Georgia are Orthodox.