Francis to Armenian bishops: 'Read reality with new eyes'

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Pope Francis called on the Catholic bishops of Armenia, who are marking the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide this month, not to retreat in a pastoral commitment to help their people "read reality with new eyes" and to live the hope of resurrection amid their suffering.

Meeting with bishops of the Patriarchal Synod of the Armenian-Catholic church Thursday, the pope also asked that God "hasten concrete gestures of reconciliation and peace among the nations that still fail to reach a reasonable consensus on the reading of these sad events."

Francis met Thursday with the Armenian bishops ahead of a special Mass he will celebrate on Sunday, when he will formally proclaim a 10th-century Armenian monk as a doctor of the church.

The Armenian genocide -- estimated to have seen the deaths of up to 1.5 million members of the minority Armenian population of what was then the Ottoman Empire at the start of World War I -- is not officially recognized by the empire's successor state, Turkey.

Francis addressed the genocide directly in his remarks to the bishops.

"It is important to ask God for the gift of wisdom of the heart," Francis told the prelates. "The commemoration of the victims of 100 years ago in fact places us before the darkness of the iniquitous mystery."

"As the Gospel says, the depths of the human heart can unleash the darkest forces, capable of going as far as to systematically organize a brother's annihilation, to consider him an enemy, an opponent, or even an individual devoid of the same human dignity," he said.

Later in his remarks, the pope told the bishops that "the suffering pages of the history of your people continue, in a certain sense, the passion of Jesus, but in each of them, there is the bud of his resurrection."

"Do not go back in your pastoral commitment to educate the lay faithful to be able to read reality with new eyes, to be able to say every day, 'My people are not only that of the suffering for Christ, but moreover of the resurrection in him,' " Francis said.

On Sunday, Francis will concelebrate Mass at the Vatican with Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni alongside Armenian bishops and members of their communities.

During the Mass, the pope will declare Armenian St. Gregory of Narek a doctor of the church, a formal title that indicates the writings and work of a particular person are of universal importance.

St. Gregory will become the 36th doctor of the church alongside St. Basil the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Catherine of Siena.

In his remarks to the bishops Thursday, Francis tied his decision to recognize St. Gregory to Pope Benedict XV's decision in 1920 to grant the same distinction to St. Ephrem, a fourth-century deacon from the region of Syria.

Francis ended the meeting by calling for Benedict's intercession for ecumenical dialogue between the Armenian Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church, saying he was "mindful of the fact that 100 years ago today, the martyrdom and persecution had already realized the ecumenism of the blood."

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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