Our Deep Communion Has its Source in our Common Faith Sealed by the Gift of Baptism

Author: John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Address to Armenian Catholicos, December 13, 1996

Venerable and Beloved Brother in Christ,

1. "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Mt 18:20). We profoundly believe that Christ himself is present in our midst, and it is in Christ's name that we welcome you and the distinguished persons accompanying you. This new meeting is a cause of great joy, gratitude and trust for us. We give thanks first of all to the "Father of lights" (Jas 1:17), who has called us to communion in his Son; it is from him that every perfect gift comes. You are all welcome here in this house and in our Church, because for us you are beloved brothers. Be assured that your visit is truly a blessing for the Successor of Peter, for the Church of Rome and for the whole Catholic Church.

The Lord's presence gives our meeting its true meaning and richness. The deep communion we are experiencing at this moment has its source in our common faith in the one Lord, a faith sealed by the gift of Baptism.

2. By virtue of the apostolic succession, which enables us mutually to recognize the validity of the ministerial priesthood and the episcopacy, our Churches celebrate the same sacraments, particularly Baptism and the Eucharist. Thus our Churches can together glorify God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and be the sign and sacrament of the loving plan of God who wishes to gather into one all his scattered children (cf. Jn 11:52). Our Churches are consequently engaged in a similar mission to the contemporary world. Thus we intend to carry out this mission together, each according to his specific responsibility, in concern for the part of the flock that Christ has entrusted to each of his Pastors, knowing that we truly have need of one another. It is in this spirit of fraternal reciprocity that the Armenian Catholic Church, which has the same spiritual roots and the same culture as your Church, also has her place in this mission and helps to link us even more closely.

3. The Armenian Apostolic Church has inherited an incomparable wealth of traditions that date back to the origins of our faith. The Armenian people were among the first to welcome the Good News and to give it a specific expression corresponding to their identity, language and history; thus it has become a living Christian community, truly rooted in the local human reality and sharing the joys and sufferings of the whole people.

The Armenian Church, established in a tormented region at the crossroads of different cultures and religions and of different political entities, has known persecution. She has sealed her steadfast fidelity to Christ with the blood of countless martyrs throughout her history. The Church does not forget this unique experience, which radically conforms the disciple to his Master and which sows throughout the world the Good News of salvation, freely received through the Cross of the Saviour. For the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians. Even today the Church is a Church of martyrs, and on every continent she pays a heavy price. But in faith and hope we recognize that the witness given to Christ strengthens and purifies the Church of God.

4. The Armenian Church today finds herself facing a new and immense task. The Catholic Church wishes to stand at her side, in order to support her and to help her respond to the appeals of the present moment, with full respect for her own life and her particular identity. Recently, after the tragedy of the terrible earthquake that struck Armenia in 1988, we again had the opportunity to express our fraternal charity by contributing, however little, to the alleviation of the human suffering and by accompanying your people with our fervent prayers, when they were injured once again. The Christians in your land have many needs. We must study together how closer collaboration can help to rebuild the Church and provide support for the people of Armenia, who must now learn to use their new-found freedom with dignity. Such co-operation will enrich everyone, and concrete charity, which is love for one's brothers and sisters, will greatly increase our dialogue, in order to surmount the obstacles which still stand in the way of our full communion.

5. As I said with insistence in my last Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint, dedicated to the search for Christian unity, the ecumenical journey is both a "dialogue of conversion" (n. 35) and an "exchange of gifts" (n. 28). Through dialogue, we must continuously seek to give courageous witness to the truth, in order to serve the Redeemer of the world and the Lord of history. On both sides, our saints and our martyrs call us to an ever deeper fidelity and communion, through love for the Body of Christ.

6. Your Holiness, you are one of the pioneers in the field of ecumenism. You were your Church's observer at three sessions of the Second Vatican Council and you were able to witness the Catholic Church's effort of resourcement and renewal, as well as her irreversible commitment to ecumenism, which was one of its fruits. You have likewise carried out a most remarkable ecumenical activity, both on a global scale within the framework of the World Council of Churches, and on a regional level in the Council of Churches of the Middle East. We were, moreover, already able to discuss this common commitment to the service of Christian unity during your previous visit to the Church of Rome in 1983, when you had just acceded to the office of Catholicos of the House of Cilicia.

Personally, I hope that this collaboration will be continued and intensified, so that we can more faithfully carry out our mission in the world today. In this regard, we hope that meetings such as this may be repeated and multiplied, so that they gradually become true meetings of dialogue and joint work; we will thus be united in the evangelizing task awaiting us on the threshold of the third millennium.

7. Venerable and beloved Brother in Christ, let us together pray to the Lord that your pilgrimage to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, seat of the Successor of Peter, may revive the links between the Catholic Church and the Armenian Church, strengthening them in the faith that they themselves have confessed to the point of martyrdom. We also hope that the many meetings you have had in Rome with various individuals and institutions have enabled you to discover and to encourage many new projects of collaboration in the area of theological and pastoral formation, as well as in common witness and service for the good of our contemporaries. May our reconciliation and our union thus pave the way to peace and brotherly understanding between peoples, in a world that even now is too often marked by injustice, contempt for the poor, the exasperation of an exaggerated nationalism and discrimination!

8. At the end of our meeting allow me to express to you once again our deep joy in being able to welcome you among us. May the grace and cordiality of our meeting become like "a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts" (2 Pt 1:19)! "Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen!" (Eph 3:20-21).

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