The Redemptoris Mater Chapel in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace was the scene of an ecumenical ceremony on Monday morning that was presided over by Pope Benedict and Aram I of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Speaking at the event, the Pope highlighted the progress made in developing and understanding between the Eastern and Roman Churches.
Pope Benedict began his remarks by expressing his gratitude for the efforts that Aram I has made to encourage dialogue between the two Churches, noting that in 1997 the Catholicos paid a visit to Pope John Paul II.
The Pontiff then recalled that this is the year of Saint Paul and that the Armenian Apostolic leader will soon visit the tomb of the "Apostle of the Nations and pray with the monastic community at the basilica erected to his memory."
"In that prayer," the Pope said, "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." In particular he mentioned St. Nerses Shnorkhali and St. Nerses of Lambon who, "as bishop of Tarsus, was known as 'the second Paul of Tarsus.'"
The testimony of these saints "culminated in the twentieth century, which proved a time of unspeakable suffering for your people," the Holy Father stated. Yet, 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," he said.
Pope Benedict XVI then raised the topic of ecumenical dialogue between the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church, and thanked the Armenian Apostolic Church for their presence at the dialogue, which the Pontiff said has "benefited significantly" from their contributions.
The Holy Father also said that he hopes the dialogue will "clarify theological issues which have divided us in the past but now appear open to greater consensus." Moreover, the Pope explained that he sees an "increased understanding and appreciation of the apostolic tradition which we share" as contributing to an "ever more effective common witness to the spiritual and moral values without which a truly just and humane social order cannot exist."
Closing his remarks the Holy Father gave assurances of his "daily prayers and deep concern 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?
"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."