YEREVAN—Pope Francis arrived at the Armenian Genocide Memorial at Tsitsernakaberd early on Saturday morning, together with Catholicos of All Armenians, His Holiness Karekin II. They were met by Armenia’s President Serge Sarkisian and First Lady Rita Sarkisian at the memorial.
Pope Francis offered an intercessory prayer (see prayer below) and a silent prayer for the dead, and placed a wreath as well as one white and one yellow rose (the colors of the Vatican) by the eternal flames. The pope and Karekin II held an ecumenical service in memory of the victims of the genocide, which included the “Our Father” prayer, as well as the reading of Biblical passages.
A moving duduk performance by Djivan Gasparyan, Gevorg Dabaghyan, and Kamo Seyranyan took place near the eternal flame.
During this visit, the pope also planted, watered, and blessed a fir tree to symbolize peace and hope in the Memory Alley by the Memorial complex.
At the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute, Pope Francis signed the guestbook. His message: “I pray here with sorrow in my heart, that there might never again be tragedies like this one, that humanity might never forget, and might know how to overcome evil with goodness; may God grant to the beloved Armenian people and to the whole world peace and consolation. May God preserve the memory of the Armenian people. The memory must neither be watered down nor forgotten; memory is the fount of peace and of the future.”
At the museum-institute, the pope was presented with a gold commemorative medal. He also met with 10 descendants of genocide survivors who found safe haven in the Vatican apostolic palace of Castelgandolfo in the 1920’s under the pontificate of Pius XI, reported Vatican Radio.
Afterward, the pope’s motorcade headed to the city of Gyumri, which was devastated by an earthquake in 1988. There, Pope Francis, together with the Ordinary of Eastern Europe for Armenian Catholics, Archbishop Raphael Minassian, and in the presence of Karekin II conducted an open air Holy Mass in Vartanants Square, where the pope remembered St. Gregory of Narek (read his remarks below).
Karekin II talked about Gyumri, explaining, “Gyumri is one of those historical towns of Armenia where centuries-old Armenian Christian values have flourished.” He also spoke of the people of Gyumri as “bearers of a beautiful tradition of Christian brotherly coexistence,” according to Vatican Radio.
Pope Francis spoke of the devastation following the 1988 earthquake and gave thanks for all that was rebuilt. He highlighted the three “stable foundations” of a nation’s spiritual future: memory, faith, and merciful love.
Following the service, the pope visited the Our Lady of Armenia convent and orphanage, where he had lunch with around 60 children, reported Vatican Radio.
Pope Francis, together with Karekin II, also visited the Holy Mother of God Armenian Apostolic Cathedral and the Holy Martyrs Armenian Catholic Cathedral of Gyumri in the afternoon before heading to the airport; from there, he flew back to Yerevan to hold an Ecumenical Encounter and a Prayer for Peace in Republic Square.
Below is the Vatican Radio’s English translation of the pope’s intercessory prayer at Tsitsernakaberd:
Christ, who crowns your saints,
who fulfills the will of your faithful
and looks with love and tenderness upon your creatures,
hear us from your holy heavens,
by the intercession of the holy Generatrix of God
and by the prayer of your saints
and those whom we remember today.
Hear us, O Lord, and have mercy.
Forgive us, expiate and remit our sins.
Make us worthy to glorify you with thankful hearts,
together with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and forever. Amen.
Below is the Vatican Radio’s English translation of the Pope’s remarks in Gyumri:
All the same, we might ask ourselves: how can we become merciful, with all the faults and failings that we see within ourselves and all about us? I would like to appeal to one concrete example, a great herald of divine mercy, one to whom I wished to draw greater attention by making him a Doctor of the Universal Church: Saint Gregory of Narek, word and voice of Armenia. It is hard to find his equal in the ability to plumb the depths of misery lodged in the human heart. Yet he always balanced human weakness with God’s mercy, lifting up a heartfelt and tearful prayer of trust in the Lord who is “giver of gifts, root of goodness… voice of consolation, news of comfort, joyful impulse… unparalleled compassion, inexhaustible mercy… the kiss of salvation” (Book of Lamentations, 3, 1). He was certain that “the light of God’s mercy is never clouded by the shadow of indignation” (ibid., 16, 1). Gregory of Narek is a master of life, for he teaches us that the most important thing is to recognize that we are in need of mercy. Despite our own failings and the injuries done to us, we must not become self-centered but open our hearts in sincerity and trust to the Lord, to “the God who is ever near, loving and good” [ibid., 17, 2), “filled with love for mankind … a fire consuming the chaff of sin (ibid., 16, 2).
In the words of Saint Gregory, I would like now to invoke God’s mercy and his gift of unfailing love: Holy Spirit, “powerful protector, intercessor and peace-maker, we lift up our prayers to you… Grant us the grace to support one another in charity and good works… Spirit of sweetness, compassion, loving kindness and mercy… You who are mercy itself… Have mercy on us, Lord our God, in accordance with your great mercy” (Hymn of Pentecost).