04/09/2015, 00.00
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Officials and thousands of faithful to join Pope Francis for the Armenian Genocide memorial

by Fady Noun
The President of Armenia, Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX and the two Catholicos of Etchmiadzin and Antelias will attend the service. The ongoing persecution of the Eastern Churches will be remembered as well. A delegation of at least 400 people is expected from Lebanon. A patriarchal choir is scheduled to perform.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Responding to a wish of the Armenian Catholic Church, Francis Pope will celebrate a Mass on the centennial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide (1915) next Sunday, Feast of Divine Mercy, in Rome’s St Peter’s Basilica.

The President of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, the two Catholicos of Etchmiadzin (Armenia) and Antelias (the Great House of Cilicia, in Lebanon), Karekin II and Aram I, and Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni will attend the religious ceremony, joined by thousands of Armenians expected in the Italian capital in the coming days.

The event will be doubly important, at the national and ecumenical levels. It will also be relevant at the international level in view of the ongoing tragedy of the Christian Churches in the Middle East. It will help both highlight the Armenian cause as well as focus attention on the plight of all Eastern Churches.

A delegation of 400 people from Lebanon

A delegation of about 400 people from Lebanon is expected in Rome, including senior Lebanese government officials. The presence of representatives of the local Armenian press has not been excluded.

Last Monday evening, Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX and members of the Armenian Catholic synod flew to Rome. Pope Francis is expected to meet with the delegation.

The patriarchal choir ‘Groung’ (The Crane) – which is named after the mythological migratory bird that, according to Armenian tradition, "leaves its native land without losing hope of coming back – will perform a concert at the Vatican next Sunday.

What will Pope Francis say during the Mass on 12 April?

Will the pontiff refer to the massacres of 1915 as a "genocide"? Undoubtedly, this is what the Armenian Churches want. Experts and scholars note that in 2006, on the occasion of the commemoration of the events, Pope Francis, then Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, called on Turkey to recognise the massacres as "the most serious crime [committed] by Ottoman Turkey against the Armenian people and all humanity".

"Extending a hand"

Turkey, for its part, Turkey has never officially recognised the genocidal character of the massacres. However, the Turkish government has expressed some regrets. In 2014, then Prime Minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed his condolence to the relatives of the victims.

During his visit to Turkey last November, Francis welcomed Erdogan’s words, which he called “extending a hand,” and appealed again for reconciliation.

For its part, the Armenian Apostolic Church plans to canonise the victims of the massacres perpetrated by the ‘Young Turks’ government in a collective service on 23 April.

The genocide included the slaughter of more than one and half million Armenians as well as members of other Christian minorities.

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