GYUMRI (RFE/RL) — Authorities in Gyumri unveiled a new religious monument on Sunday on the first anniversary of a landmark mass which Pope Francis celebrated in the city during his visit to Armenia.
The open-air liturgy in Gyumri’s central square was one of the highlights of his three-day trip that reinforced the Vatican’s warm relationship with Armenia and the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Gyumri’s municipal administration decided to mark the anniversary of Pope Francis’s visit with a monument resembling the altar that was erected at Vardanants Square for the papal mass. The new memorial was inaugurated by the city’s Mayor Samvel Balasanian, Archbishop Rafael Minasian, the head of Armenia’s small Catholic community, and Archbishop Mikael Ajapahian, the Gyumri-based head of the surrounding Shirak Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
“With this memorial, I tried to record the city’s history because Popes of Rome hadn’t visited our city for many centuries and they may not visit again for many centuries,” Balasanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“The holy pontiff of Rome came here not just for the sake of the Catholic community,” Ajapahian said for his part. “He also came to express his brotherly love for the large army of Apostolic Church followers.”
While in Armenia, Pope Francis also held an ecumenical service with Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II in Yerevan’s largest square. In an ensuing joint declaration, the two religious leaders praised the “growing closeness” between their churches. The pontiff further reaffirmed his recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey, prompting a strong condemnation from Ankara.
The rapprochement between the Roman Catholic and Armenian Churches gained momentum in 1996 when they essentially ended their long-standing theological differences. In 2001, John Paull II became the first Pope to have ever visited Armenia.