By Salvatore Cernuzio
As the Holy See and Armenia mark 30 years of diplomatic relations, a new office of the Apostolic Nunciature to Georgia and Armenia is to be inaugurated on October 27, in the Armenian capital Yerevan. The inauguration will take place in the presence of Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, Substitute of the Secretariat of State.
The opening of the Yerevan office represents a provisional setup in view of a wider arrangement in order to have sufficient space to adequately support the multiple commitments of the mission of the Holy See and of the Catholic Church in Armenia. For the Holy See, it is a further opportunity to look "at building a prosperous relationship for the benefit of all Armenians".
The Apostolic Nunciature in Armenia was established on May 24, 1992, with the apostolic letter Armeniam Nationem of St. John Paul II. The relations between the Church of Rome and Armenia go back to ancient times, almost to the very origins of Christianity, when faith in Jesus spread from Jerusalem to the "known world", where meetings and commercial and cultural exchanges between peoples became an occasion for debates that touched the "meaning" of life and existence.
Over the centuries, this ancient and prolific relationship between Armenia and the Holy See has grown in strength. Official diplomatic relations in modern times can be traced back to May 23, 1992, after Armenia gained independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Since then, the Holy See has continually maintained diplomatic representations to foster relations, along with other initiatives and channels of various Catholic institutions. The first apostolic nuncio appointed to Armenia was Monsignor Jean-Paul Aimé Gobel (1993-1997). The current Holy See’s representative since 2018 is Archbishop José A. Bettencourt.
Holy See’s apostolic thrust
Over the years, the relationship between the Holy See and Armenia has also taken shape with the work and presence of the Mechitarist Congregation, the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, the clergy of the Ordinariate for Catholics of the Armenian rite in Eastern Europe, the Sisters of Charity of Mother Teresa in Spitak and Yerevan, the Camillian Fathers of the “Redemptoris Mater” hospital in Ashotzk, built after the 1988 earthquake, and Caritas Armenia. These are just some of the most well-known Catholic presences that draw on the resources and support of the worldwide Catholic Church and which, over the years, have provided valid support to the mission of the Nuncios in the country, who have always been able to count on the generosity and support offered by the Armenian-Catholic archbishops.
In 2019, during his visit to Armenia, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher said: "The intention of all the Catholic communities present in Armenia - the Armenian-Catholic, the Roman and other rites - is to strive for the welfare of Armenian society as a whole.” “Our communities continue to do so through their activities in the spiritual, cultural, educational, charitable and humanitarian fields.”
Pope Francis’ visit
Pope Francis visited Armenia, June 24-26, 2016. In his meeting with the country’s civil authorities and members of the diplomatic corps, the Pontiff recalled the history of the country, marked by Metz Yeghern (the ‘Great Evil’ or what is known as the Armenian genocide under the Ottoman Empire during World War I), which has always gone “hand in hand with its Christian identity, preserved over the centuries". “This Christian identity,” the Pope said, “far from hindering the healthy secularism of the state, nourishes it, favouring the shared citizenship of all members of society, religious freedom and respect for minorities.” “The cohesion of all Armenians, and the increased commitment to identify useful ways to overcome tensions with some neighbouring countries,” he said, “will make it easier to achieve these important objectives, ushering in an era of true rebirth for Armenia.”