The growth in ecumenical relations has great promise for the proclamation of the Gospel in our time, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope affirmed this today when he presided at an ecumenical celebration with Aram I, Catholicos of Cilicia of the Armenians. A delegation from the Catholicosate also participated in the event.

Aram I is on a visit to Rome that will include a pilgrimage to St. Paul’s Outside the Walls.

“Our meeting today,” the Pope told him, “stands in continuity with the visit which you made to my beloved predecessor Pope John Paul II in January 1997, and with the many other contacts and mutual visits which, by God’s grace, have led in recent yea! rs to closer relations between the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church.”

“In this year of St. Paul, you will visit the tomb of the Apostle of the Nations and pray with the monastic community at the basilica erected to his memory,” the Holy Father continued. “In that prayer, you will be united to the great host of Armenian saints and martyrs, teachers and theologians, whose legacy of learning, holiness and missionary achievements are part of the patrimony of the whole Church. […] That testimony culminated in the 20th century, which proved a time of unspeakable suffering for your people.

“The faith and devotion of the Armenian people have been constantly sustained by the memory of the many martyrs who have borne witness to the Gospel down the centuries. May the grace of that witness continue to shape the culture of your nation and inspire in Christ’s followers an ever greater trust in the saving and life-giving pow! er of the cross.”

Overcoming divisions

The Pontiff noted how the See of Cilicia has been involved in encouraging ecumenical contacts between the Churches.

“Indeed, the dialogue between the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church has benefited significantly from the presence of its Armenian delegates,” he said. “We must be hopeful that this dialogue will continue to move forward, since it promises to clarify theological issues which have divided us in the past but now appear open to greater consensus.”

In that context, Benedict XVI expressed confidence in the work of an international commission studying “The Nature, Constitution and Mission of the Church.”

The Armenian Apostolic Church is one of six Oriental Orthodox Churches. These Churches separated from Rome after the Council of Chalcedon in 451, over controversy arising from the council’s adoption of the Christological terminolo! gy of two natures in one person. However, most now agree that the controversy arose over semantics, not doctrine.

Several of the Oriental Orthodox Churches have signed accords with the Catholic Church expressing that they share the same faith regarding Christ.

The Armenian Apostolic Church is one of those that has moved closer to unity, notably thanks to a 1996 declaration signed by Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Karekin I on the nature of Jesus.

“Surely the growth in understanding, respect and cooperation which has emerged from ecumenical dialogue promises much for the proclamation of the Gospel in our time,” Benedict XVI continued.

Given that Catholics and Armenians live side by side around the world, the Holy Father expressed his certainty that an “increased understanding and appreciation of the apostolic tradition which we share will contribute to an ever more effective common witness to the spiritual and moral values! without which a truly just and humane social order cannot exist.”

Mideast conflicts

Due to historical circumstances, since 1441, there have been two Catholicosates in the Armenian Church with equal rights and privileges, and with their respective jurisdictions. The primacy of honor of the Catholicosate of Etchmiadzin has always been recognized by the Catholicosate of Cilicia.

The Catholicosate of Cilicia is based in Antelias, Lebanon.

Thus, Benedict XVI expressed his concern and assured his prayer for the people of Lebanon and the Middle East.

“How can we not be grieved by the tensions and conflicts which continue to frustrate all efforts to foster reconciliation and peace at every level of civil and political life in the region,” he said. “Most recently we have all been saddened by the escalation of persecution and violence against Christians in parts of the Middle East and elsewhere.

“Only ! when the countries involved can determine their own destiny, and the various ethnic groups and religious communities accept and respect each other fully, will peace be built on the solid foundations of solidarity, justice and respect for the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples.”

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 24, 2008 (Zenit.org)
(DANILO SCHIAVELLA/AFP/Getty Images)