Armenian President Visits Vatican

VATICAN (Public Radio of Armenia) — On an official visit to the Holy See (Vatican), Armenian President Serge Sargisian attended the opening of the exhibit “A Fable of the East: Christianity Facing the Challenges of the New Millennium” at the Vittoriano Museum Complex. The aim of the exhibition is to draw the attention of the international community to the state of thousand-year-old endangered Christian communities in the Middle East, as well as to the need for preserving the Christian cultural heritage in the region. The exhibition includes photos taken in nine Middle Eastern countries and a separate section devoted to a documentary film about the destruction of Jugha’s Armenian khachkars (cross-stones).

The exhibition has been organized at the initiative and under the patronage of the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia in the Holy See within the framework of the annual Rimini Festival for Friendship among Peoples launched on August 24. After Rome it will appear in other cities.

At the opening of the exhibition Sargisian delivered a speech in which he described the photographs presented as a “silent scream,” and raised the question of whether enough is being done in a correct fashion to encourage tolerance and resist xenophobia. He pointed out that after the destruction of Jugha’s khachkars, which was not opposed, many could and did conclude “that in fact the age-old cultural monuments of an entire people can be razed to the ground with picks and [the perpetrators] simply remain unpunished.” It might be thought “in that case, why not repeat such an easily implemented act in Iraq, Syria and other places?”

Sargisian stressed that we cannot remain silent but must double efforts to inculcate tolerance. He said, “Those who live today are directly responsible for making the tie between the future and the past indestructible, and for the perpetuation of our values.” Modern technology created mobile phones with videos, but these phones can be used to transmit horrific images of beheadings. There is a gap between our values and our technology. He then pointed to Azerbaijan by asking “Are we able to overlook the oil pipelines and inexorably point out the dictator who keeps all his people in servitude and threatens to drown his neighbor in blood?”

Sargisian finally mentioned the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, still often not properly characterized. He said: “The truth is that we can’t ensure a peaceful and safe future without condemning the crimes of the past. For this very purpose we cannot allow using faith in the name of xenophobia or against other religions. We cannot allow using religion as a crutch to wage war and use violence. Rather, we must make use of religious power and strength to promote dialogue and tolerance in all corners of the world.”

Mikayel Minasyan, the Armenian ambassador to the Holy See, Marco Impagliazzo, the president of the Community of Sant’Egidio and Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, spoke at the opening about the importance of the topic of the exhibition, the state of Christians in the Middle East, as well about their deep concern over the existence of Christianity and protection of social and cultural values in general.

The president of Armenia also visited St. Bartholomew Church, the chapels of which contain records about Christian martyrs, including those of the Armenian Genocide. Sargisian laid a wreath at the main altar of the church and paid tribute to the memory of martyrs. Addressing the believers gathered in the church, the Armenian president noted the special significance and role of the church in the history of the Armenian people. Underscoring that the Armenian people did not have statehood for a long time – the last Armenian kingdom faded away 600 years ago – Sargisian said that in the absence of statehood, the church undertook many state functions. This helped the Armenian people survive to the 21st century.

Sargisian underlined that St. Bartholomew after whom this church located on the Tiber Island is named, is considered one of the founders of the Armenian Church. “May God give us the strength and ability to be able to pass on our Christian values to our generations,” Sargisian exclaimed.