In the centenary year marking the start of the systematic slaughter by the Ottomans of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915, Pope Francis delivered a special message in which he reaffirmed that the “Metz Yeghern” or “Great Evil”, was in fact a genocide.
Speaking before a special Mass for the Armenians at St Peter’s in Rome on Divine Mercy Sunday, Francis said the Christians’ faith sustained them 100 years ago “in what is generally referred to as the first genocide of the twentieth century”. The congregation included the President of Armenia, Serž Azati Sargsyan, Catholicos Karekin II, supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Aram I, Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia in that Church, and Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX of the Armenian Catholic Church.
Francis’ reference to the genocide was taken from a common declaration signed by both Pope St John Paul II and Supreme Armenian Patriarch Karekin II in 2001. Argentina, Belgium, Canada, France, Italy, Russia and Uruguay are among the 22 nations that formally recognise the extermination programme as a genocide. Britain does not.
At the same Mass the Pope also proclaimed the tenth-century Armenian monk St Gregory of Narek a Doctor of the Church.
The witness of victims expressed “the ecumenism of blood”, Francis said on Sunday, making explicit his view that contemporary persecution and martyrdom can bear ecumenical fruit by promoting solidarity across the different Christian denominations.
After Francis made his comments, the Turkish Foreign Ministry released a statement expressing their “great disappointment and sadness” at Francis’ remarks, while Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the Pope’s remarks were “inappropriate” and “one-sided”. In Ankara the foreign ministry summoned the nuncio to tell him the remarks had caused a “problem of trust”.
On Monday Francis responded to criticism in his morning Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae, saying “people should say things with frankness ... We cannot keep silent [about] what we have seen and heard.”
Looking forward to other commemorations this year, Francis told the Armenians, “I assure you of my closeness on the occasion of the canonisation ceremony of the martyrs of the Armenian Apostolic Church, to be held this coming 23 April in the Cathedral of Etchmiadzin, and on the occasion of the commemorations to be held in Antelias in July.”