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  • What does Holy Father Pope Francis’ visit to Gyumri mean for the Armenian Catholics?

    A very important historical milestone that will give new impetus to a deeper understanding of spiritual identity.

    7 June, 2016




    May 16, 2016

    Fr. Hovsep Galstyan


    The upcoming visit of the Holy Father on June 25, 2016 is an event of enormous historical and spiritual significance for Catholic Armenians in Gyumri.


    The Roman Pontiff- the head of the Catholic or Universal Church will visit Gyumri, this small town, for the first time in the history, which has been and is the center of Armenian Catholics in Armenia. Moreover, Gyumri is the center of all Armenian Catholics in Georgia, Russia and Eastern Europe, where the seat of the Օrdinariate for all of these communities – Cathedral of the Holy Martyrs- is located.


    The Pope will visit his Armenian Catholic community, which sharing the historical destiny of the Armenian people for centuries went through many trials, hardships, persecutions, but “have fought  the good fight,  have kept the faith,” remained loyal to the Universal Church.


    Throughout history, the most beautiful period of spiritual awakening and growth of the Armenian Catholics and the development of communities in Armenia and Georgia is the 19th century and  the first two decades of the 20th century, before the establishment of the Bolshevik regime, after which the activity of Armenian Catholic Church and the Catholic Church, in general was strictly banned throughout the Soviet territory. Dozens of priests were murdered or exiled; all the churches were closed and remained so until 1991. Although, in some communities, people did not allow to close their churches fighting to the end and continued their prayers organizing themselves independently in churches or homes. Nowadays they continue to tell about the prayerful spirit and zeal of those days, about the “clandestine Church”, if one may say so, a phrase that is often used in communist countries about the Catholic Church acting secretly during those years. Those 70-years of persecution and violent spiritual degeneracy of the Catholic communities were difficult years, the effects of which are still noticeable in the communities. However, due to the unceasing support of the Holy Spirit, Catholics survived as a community and took the path to spiritual growth in 1991, when the Catholic community in Armenia was reorganized under the direct patronage of Pope St. John Paul II. Then the communities of Georgia, Russia and Eastern Europe were joint to it and the general ordinariate was formed by the guidance of titled Archbishop of Sebastia. The way of spiritual awakening of the Armenian Catholic community, the re-acknowledgement of own identity, of revaluation started. Believers began to organize themselves as communities by the leadership of Armenian Catholic clergy, with the help of Armenian Sisters under the auspices of the Holy See, with the help of different charitable institutions of the Catholic Church and, of course, with the support of state and local authorities.


    The pastoral visit of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Armenia in 2001 was a powerful impetus for the spiritual development of communities, which was the first one in history. The head of the of Universal Church came to express his love and respect for His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, to show his paternal love and concern for the Catholic community and all Armenian people, giving a unique splendor to the sacrament of 1700th anniversary of the adoption of Christianity as the state religion. The Pope visited only St. Etchmiadzin and Yerevan (also St. Gregory of Narek Armenian Catholic Parish in Kanaker), drawing the attention of entire Universal Church to the spiritual center of Armenian people, to St. Echmiadzin- one of the cradles of Christianity.


    In 2010, finally, after numerous difficulties, the construction of the Ordinariate of the Armenian Catholic Church of Holy Martyrs in Gyumri began, which lasted 5 years. It was solemnly consecrated on 24 September 2015, presided by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, (representing the Holy Father) and Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians, His Beatitude Gregory Peter XX, in the presence of the RA President Serzh Sargsyan and with the participation of high clergymen of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The consecration of the newly built Cathedral was a symbol of spiritual awakening of the community, an awakening, which is already an undeniable fact, and is gradually developing due to the graces of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Father gave to the newly built Cathedral a stone taken from the Holy Door of Mercy of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, as a sign of union in love and mercy.


    The logical continuation of these milestones will be the visit of Pope Francis on June 25. If St. John Paul’s visit to St. Echmiadzin emphasized the spiritual and historical source of the Catholic community, the Pope Francis’ visit will highlight the victory of spiritual struggles of centuries. This visit will be a new spiritual impetus for the entire community, a beautiful expression of paternal attention of Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church to his suffered, but victorious flock.


    These historical milestones are the most important stages of spiritual advancement of the Catholic community – tops that give new impulses to the spiritual life of the community, to a deeper recognition of the spiritual identity.




    Translated by Narine Aghasaryan