By Angel Zohrabian
On April 12, 2015, my father and I had the opportunity of witnessing one of the most important and memorable events for all Armenians. We traveled to Rome to take part in the Mass dedicated to the commemoration of the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide. It took place in St. Peter’s Basilica, an awe-inspiring and magnificent church that provided a wonderful ambiance for Armenians and Catholics from everywhere to join together in prayer.
Four church leaders: His Holiness Karekin II (supreme patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians), Catholicos Aram I (Great House of Cilicia), His Beatitude Nerses Bedros XIX (Patriarch of Cilicia of Armenian Catholics), and His Holiness, Pope Francis, stood united in Jesus Christ as they each led parts of the Mass, switching off between classical Armenian and Latin.
Along with the presence of the important religious figures were the President of the Republic of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, the bishops of the Armenian Church, and the cardinals from the Catholic Church.
The Mass, which took place on the second Sunday of Easter, was significant in not only bringing unity between Armenians and Catholics alike, but also in creating greater awareness towards the Armenian Genocide. The Genocide itself began on April 24, 1915 when hundreds of Armenian intellectuals, including clergy, doctors, attorneys, musicians, writers, and high ranking officials, were deported and killed by the Ottoman Turks. Thus started the deliberate attempt to annihilate the Armenian minority that was under Turkish rule at the time on their own land, due to their Christian faith and strong cultural identity. As a result, a large portion of historic Armenia, also known as Western Armenia, was forcibly taken from its people by means of killing and deportation.
Armenians have not received justice even 101 years later. Sadly, the Turkish government continues to deny that the massacre ever took place. The majority of the world has yet to fully recognize the loss of the 1.5 million innocent Armenians lives as well as 1 million Greeks and 750,000 Assyrians.
The Armenian Genocide marked the beginning of many genocides to come, and Pope Francis acknowledged this in his message to Armenians. He stated that mankind has endured “three massive and unprecedented tragedies” (www.wsj.com) in the last century and that “The first, which is widely considered ‘the first genocide of the 20th Century’, struck your own Armenian people,” (www.wsj.com), reiterating the words of Pope John Paul II in 2001.
The profound words of Pope Francis and his sentiment towards his Armenian brothers and sisters were significant in bringing greater recognition to the unspeakable crimes of 1915, speaking out against the denial of the Turks despite risks of political and diplomatic disputes. He spoke for justice as he explained the sad reality of violence and hate in our world today, along with our failure to stop it: “It seems that humanity is incapable of putting a halt to the shedding of innocent blood…It seems that the human family has refused to learn from its mistakes by the law of terror, so that today, too, there are those who attempt to eliminate others with the help of a few, and with complicit silence of others who simply stand by.”
By accepting the validity of the Genocide, Pope Francis was able to overturn past remarks against the atrocity by people like Adolf Hitler, who ended his command on attacking Poland in 1939 by saying, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
Hitler’s remark proves that when crime is not stopped, it is bound to repeat itself. If the injustices done by the Turkish government were brought to court, later massacres like the Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Cambodian Genocide may have been avoided.
I am extremely grateful that I got to attend the second Easter Sunday Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. Being a student at Northwest Catholic High School, I have learned and studied the history of the Church, along with her principles and traditions, and coming to Rome helped bring this knowledge of the Church to life. In a way, it was like a pilgrimage for me as I had the chance to explore the Catholic Church at its source, as well as learn more about my own faith.
Hearing the Pope discuss such an important matter as the Genocide made me feel incredibly honored and proud to be an Armenian Christian and to be present at such an unforgettable and historic event where one of the renowned saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church, St. Gregory of Narek was ranked as a Doctor of the Church. The Mass was unlike any other I had ever experienced in that it brought union and justice to our people as Christians and victims of the Genocide. Not only was the diverse congregation jubilant and devoted to prayer, but the church leaders were also very respectful of each other, referring to one another as “Beloved Brother in Christ” multiple times and professing how thankful they were to have the privilege of being able to participate in a mass this unique. Standing side by side, they brought a kind of reverent silence over the congregation as the faithful watched their church leaders share their remarks and lead them in worship.
Yes, the Mass was important in bringing two of the most ancient churches together and yes, it also ranked St. Gregory of Narek as a Doctor of the Church; but most importantly, it commemorated and brought greater recognition towards the centennial of the Armenian Genocide.
I couldn’t be prouder to be Armenian than when I was surrounded by the thousands of people that gathered in St. Peter’s Square to hear the Pope restate his message from his balcony. Witnessing our churches agreeing on issues as important as the Armenian Genocide really affected me spiritually and I believe that this is one of the many steps in achieving justice, especially as Pope Francis made his Apostolic journey to Armenia this past weekend. He said, “With the help of God, I come among you to fulfill, as the motto of the trip says, a “visit to the first Christian country.”
The Pope’s stance and dedication to publicizing evils like the Genocide is greatly appreciated by Armenians and encourages other world leaders to come forward as well. By having such an influential figure bring awareness to a cause as important as the Armenian Genocide, we are put on the path towards faith, love, and hope for greater recognition as well as a better future for the Armenian people and the world.
(Angel Zohrabian is a high school senior in West Hartford, CT. She is the daughter of Fr. Gomidas Zohrabian.)