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March 27, 2006

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From Catholic News Service

Pope encourages unity of Armenian Christians

By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI encouraged Armenian Orthodox and Catholics, who trace their origins back to St. Gregory the Illuminator, to work to restore their unity in one community united with the pope.

Meeting March 20 with members of the synod of the Armenian Catholic Church and nearly 200 Armenian Catholic pilgrims, the pope praised the ecumenical initiatives undertaken by the Armenian Catholic patriarchate, based in Beirut, Lebanon, and the Armenian Apostolic Church, an ancient and independent Oriental Orthodox Church that in recent years has improved its relations with the Vatican.

The Armenian Apostolic Church is the dominant religious denomination in Armenia, claiming a membership of more than 90 million people.

"I encourage this new-found fraternity and collaboration, hoping that from it there would arise new initiatives for a common path toward full unity," the pope told the group led by Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni of Beirut, the Armenian Catholic patriarch.

Pope Benedict praised the faith of Armenian Christians who have shared the trials Armenians faced throughout the centuries, "particularly the sufferings endured in the name of the Christian faith in the years of terrible persecution recorded in history with the sadly significant name of 'metz yeghern,'" or "the great massacre," in which an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks in 1915-18.

Armenians, persecuted by the Ottoman Turks and in the former Soviet Union, ended up fleeing to other countries, which further split the Christian community.

Pope Benedict said, "If historic events led to the fragmentation of the Armenian church, divine providence will ensure that one day it will be united with its hierarchy in fraternal harmony and in full communion with the bishop of Rome."

He encouraged Armenians to work and pray for the day when there will be "one flock under one shepherd."

Copyright (c) 2003 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The CNS news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed, including but not limited to such means as framing or any other digital copying or distribution method, in whole or in part without the prior written authority of Catholic News Service.

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