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Pope Calls For Closer Ties With Armenian Orthodox Church

  • RFE/RL

Pope Francis visits the Armenian genocide memorial in Yerevan on June 25.

Pope Francis visits the Armenian genocide memorial in Yerevan on June 25.

Pope Francis has called for closer ties with Armenia's Orthodox Church on the final day of a visit to the Caucasus nation that has been marked by a war of words between the Vatican and Turkey over his reference to the Ottoman-era mass killings of Armenians as "genocide."

Francis took part on June 26 in an open-air liturgy at the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral in Etchmiadzin, the seat of the Oriental Orthodox Church.

Turning to the patriarch, Catholicos Karekin II, Francis called for greater unity between the two churches.

"May an ardent desire for unity rise up in our hearts, a unity that must not be the submission of one to the other, or assimilation, but rather the acceptance of all the gifts that God has given to each," he said. "Let us pay heed to the younger generation, who seek a future free of past divisions."

The Armenian Apostolic Church and a few other Oriental Orthodox churches split from the Catholic Church in the fifth century in a dispute over the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ.

Later on June 26, Francis is due to visit the Khor Virap monastery, which is near Mount Ararat, where according to legend, Noah landed his ark after the great floods.

The monastery is located near Armenia's border with Turkey.

Turkey closed the frontier in support for its ally and ethnic kin, Azerbaijan, after the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict erupted into a full-scale war in 1992.

On arrival in Yerevan on June 24, Francis said the slaughter of Armenians by Ottoman Turks a century ago was planned genocide, sparking outrage in Ankara.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli on June 25 called the comments "greatly unfortunate" and said they bore the hallmarks of the "mentality of the Crusades."

Turkey rejects the term genocide, saying the 1.5 million deaths cited by historians is an inflated figure and that people died on both sides as the Ottoman Empire collapsed amid World War I.

The Vatican on June 26 hit back at Canikli's accusations, saying there was nothing in the pope's comments "that evokes a spirit of the Crusades."

"Francis prayed for reconciliation of all and did not say one word against the Turkish people. The pope does not conduct Crusades, is not looking to organize a war," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told reporters in Yerevan.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and spa