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Pope in Armenia as it celebrates 1700 years of Christianity (25.9.)
John Paul II arrived today in Yerevan, Armenia, at 1 p.m. local time.
The Pope noted that Armenia is celebrating the "1700th anniversary of theproclamation of Christianity as the official religion of this cherishedland. ... I am deeply moved as I think of the glorious history ofChristianity in this land, going back, according to tradition, to thepreaching of the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew. Later, through thewitness and work of St. Gregory the llluminator, Christianity for the firsttime became the faith of an entire nation."
The Holy Father observed that Armenia is marking another anniversary, the10th anniversary of its independence. "Everyone, especially thoseresponsible for public life, is called today to be genuinely committed tothe common good, in justice and solidarity, putting the progress of thepeople ahead of any partial interests. This is also true of the urgentsearch for peace at the regional level. Peace will only be built on thesolid foundations of mutual respect, justice in inter-community relationsand magnanimity on the part of the strong."
Yerevan, the capital of Armenia and home to one and a quarter millionpeople, was founded in 782 B.C. with the name of Erebuni. It is 1,000meters above sea level and is dominated by Mount Ararat, an extinctvolcanic mountain massif in neighboring eastern Turkey. Legend has it thatits main peak, Great Ararat, is the site of paradise on earth and also thefinal resting place of Noah's Ark, after the flood.
Armenia, a federal republic which proclaimed independence in 1991, has apopulation of 3.8 million, of whom 150,000, almost four percent, areCatholics. Over 90 percent of Armenians belong to the Armenian ApostolicChurch whose head is the Catholicos who resides in Holy Etchmiadzin, thespiritual seat of authority, near Yerevan.
The ordinariate of Eastern Europe for Armenian Catholics is immediatelysubject to the Holy See. The ordinary is Archbishop Nerses Der Nersessian,C.M.A. The Armenian family name which starts with "Der" indicates that theperson is a descendant of a married priest. There is also the ApostolicAdministration of the Caucasus of the Latins. The apostolic administratoris Bishop Giuseppe Pasotto.
Pope John Paul will be staying at the pontifical residence, just one partof the complex known as Holy Etchmiadzin which also includes the apostolicpalace, the residence of the Catholicos, the cathedral, curial offices, theseminary and a guest house.
Etchmiadzin was founded in the beginning of the second century and becamethe administrative and religious center of Armenia when Christianity wasproclaimed the state religion in 301. Tradition has it that the cathedralwas built on the site indicated by Christ when He appeared in a dream toSt. Gregory the Illuminator. In fact, Etchmiadzin means "place where theOnly Begotten came down."
John Paul II: We hold the same faith in Jesus Christ
John Paul II responded to the brief greeting of His Holiness Karekin II,Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians, in the presence of thebishops of the Armenian Apostolic Church and the papal entourage.
"Holy Etchmiadzin," the Holy Father said, "stands as the great symbol ofArmenia's faith in the only-begotten Son of God who came down from heaven,who died to redeem us from sin, and whose resurrection inaugurates the newheavens and the new earth. For all Armenians, Etchmiadzin remains thepledge of perseverance in that faith, despite the suffering and bloodshedpast and present, which your troubled history has made the price of yourfidelity. In this place I wish to testify that your faith is our faith inJesus Christ, true God and true man."
"As Bishop of Rome," he continued, "I kneel in admiration of the heavenlygift of your people's baptism, and I pay tribute to this temple, symbol ofthe nation, which, from the beginning, in accordance with Saint Gregory'svision, bears on its columns the sign of martyrdom."
The Pope thanked the Patriarch for welcoming him to his home. "This isthe first time that the Bishop of Rome, for the extent of his visit to acountry, is staying in the home and sharing the daily life of a Brother whopresides over one of the glorious Churches of the East. Thank you for thissign of love, which moves me deeply and speaks of profound friendship andfraternal charity to the hearts of all Catholics."
After recalling the predecessors of His Holiness Karekin II, CatholicosVazken I and Karekin I, John Paul II concluded asking the Lord to receivetheir common prayer, and to accept "the gratitude of the whole Church forthe faith of the Armenian people."
Leaving the cathedral, the Pope prayed before the tombs of the deceasedCatholicos and then travelled to the Apostolic Palace of Etchmiadzin, whereat 6:00 p.m. (3:00 p.m. Rome time) an official meeting with His Holiness Karekin II is planned.
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