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Pope at Armenia Genocide Memorial: Never Forget or Minimize

Pope at Armenia Genocide Memorial: Never Forget or Minimize
(AP)

Saturday, 25 June 2016 07:22 AM

Pope Francis demanded Saturday that the world never forget or minimize the Ottoman-era slaughter of Armenians as he paid his respects at the country's imposing genocide memorial and greeted survivors emboldened by his recognition of the "genocide."

Francis presented a wreath at the memorial and stood, head bowed, in silent prayer before an eternal flame as priests blessed him with incense and a choir sang haunting hymns.

"Here I pray with sorrow in my heart so that a tragedy like this never again occurs, so that humanity will never forget and will know how to defeat evil with good," Francis wrote in the memorial's guest book. "May God protect the memory of the Armenian people. Memory should never be watered-down or forgotten. Memory is the source of peace and the future."

Francis returned to the theme of memory during a Mass in Gyumri, where several thousand people gathered in a central square for his only public Catholic Mass of his three-day visit to Armenia. Gyumri, nestled in the rolling green hills and wildflower fields of northwestern Armenia, has long been a cradle of Christianity, and Francis came here to pay homage to its faith even in times of trial.

"Peoples, like individuals, have a memory," he told the crowd from the makeshift altar. "Your own people's memory is ancient and precious."

The Vatican has long held the Armenian cause dear, holding up the poor nation of 3 million mostly Orthodox Christians as a bastion of faith and martyrdom in a largely Muslim region and the first nation in the world to adopt Christianity as a state religion in 301.

"We were saved by the Christian faith which in the years of the genocide helped our grandfathers and great-grandfathers," 38-year-old Vardui Simonyan, a granddaughter of genocide survivors, said after the pope's visit to the memorial. "The fact that one of the main people in Christendom is with us is inspiring."

In the most carefully watched speech of the trip, Francis on Friday ad-libbed the politically charged word "genocide" to his prepared text, listing the 1915 Armenian genocide alongside the Holocaust and Stalinism as the three great mass slaughters of the 20th century.

There was no immediate reaction from Turkey, which withdrew its ambassador last year and accused Francis of spreading lies when he first termed the slaughter genocide. Turkey rejects the term, saying the 1.5 million death figure cited by historians is inflated and that people died on both sides as the Ottoman Empire collapsed amid World War I.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the Vatican wasn't aiming to renew conflict with Turkey by repeating the term, stressing that the pope has always called for reconciliation.

"I don't think there are reasons to see big problems," he said.

At the genocide memorial on Saturday, Francis greeted some descendants of the 400 or so Armenian orphans taken in by Popes Benedict XV and Pius XI at the papal summer residence south of Rome in the 1920s. Also approaching Francis was Sosi Habeschyan, 68, and her sister; their mother was a genocide orphan adopted and raised by Danish missionary Maria Jacobsen, who worked in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 and wrote about the massacre.

"A blessing has come down on the land of Mt. Ararat," said Andzhela Adzhemyan, a 35-year old refugee from Syria who was a guest at the memorial. "He has given us the strength and confidence to keep our Christian faith no matter what."

In a largely Orthodox land where Catholics are a minority, Armenians have seemed genuinely honored to welcome a pope who has long championed the Armenian cause from his time as an archbishop in Argentina and now as leader of the 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church.

"We have the memory of the genocide in our genes," said 45-year-old Alexander Rubenyan from Yerevan. "It used to be a gene of sadness, but with every visit of people like the pope the Armenian gene is becoming more alive and full of optimism."

Demourian reported from Yerevan, Armenia.

 

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Pope Francis demanded Saturday that the world never forget or minimize the Ottoman-era slaughter of Armenians as he paid his respects at the country's imposing genocide memorial and greeted survivors emboldened by his recognition of the genocide. Francis presented a wreath...
pope, armenia, genocide, memorial
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2016-22-25
Saturday, 25 June 2016 07:22 AM
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