The Vatican, 25 January 1997
At the end of their official meeting, His Holiness Pope John Paul II and His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of Cilicia, give thanks to God who has enabled them to deepen their spiritual brotherhood in Jesus Christ and their pastoral and evangelizing vocation in the world. It was a privileged occasion to pray and reflect together, to renew their commitment to and their joint efforts for Christian unity.
The meeting between the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia and the Pope of the Catholic Church marks an important stage in their relationship. These relations, which date to the beginning of Christianity in Armenia, took on particular importance in Cilicia from the 11th to the 14th centuries, and continued after the Catholicosate of Sis was exiled from its see and established in 1930 in Antelias, Lebanon.
Pope John Paul II and Catholicos Aram I rejoice at their meeting in the context of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It recalls the urgent need for full communion between Christians, for the sake of carrying out their essential mission which is first and foremost the witness to Christ who died and rose for humanity’s salvation. For two millenniums, unity of faith in Jesus Christ, God’s gift, was maintained as essential, despite Christological and ecclesiological controversies which were frequently based on historical, political, or sociocultural factors. This communion of faith, already affirmed in recent decades by their predecessors during their meetings, was solemnly reaffirmed recently at the meeting of His Holiness John Paul II with His Holiness Catholicos Karekin I. Today the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Peter, and the Catholicos of Cilicia pray that their communion of faith in Jesus Christ may progress because of the blood of the martyrs and the fidelity of the Fathers to the Gospel and the apostolic Tradition, manifesting itself in the rich diversity of their respective ecclesial traditions. Such a community of faith must be concretely expressed in the life of the faithful and must lead us towards full communion.
Thus the two spiritual leaders stress the vital importance of sincere dialogue bearing on theological and pastoral areas, as well as on other dimensions of the life and witness of believers. The relations already existing are an experience that encourages direct and fruitful collaboration between them. Their Holinesses are firmly convinced that in this century, when Christian communities are more deeply engaged in ecumenical dialogue, a serious rapprochement supported by mutual respect and understanding is the only sound and reliable way to full communion.
The Catholic Church and the Catholicosate of Cilicia also have an immense field of constructive cooperation before them. The contemporary world, because of ideologies expressed in materialistic values and by reason of the harm done by injustice and violence, represents a real risk to the integrity and identity of the Christian faith. Now more than ever, Christ’s Church must, by her fidelity to the Gospel, bring the world a message of hope and charity and become the ardent herald of Gospel values; Active collaboration must also be envisaged in the field of theological study and instruction, religious education, the evaluation of pastoral situations where common action is possible and the promotion of ethical values, furthermore, we must try to face together various problems related to mission and to pastoral and spiritual commitment to the renewal of Christian life and the transformation of society. The Pope and the Catholicos urge their clergy and faithful to take an active part in these efforts, which must be made and organized at all levels, especially the local, where believers are together confronted with difficult situations. The Christian faith is also an incentive to work together more effectively to promote the dignity and rights of every human being, as well as the right of all peoples to see their legitimate aspirations and cultural identity recognized.
Today the Armenian Church faces living conditions and challenges that are an invitation to give a more effective witness in Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh and the diaspora. Dispersed throughout the world, this Church’s faithful live in circumstances where dialogue is indispensable for her life and witness.
In today’s pluralistic society, marked by exchanges where cultures, religions and civilizations are permanently relating and interacting with one another, the Churches must promote dialogue. The Middle East context offers a source of mutual enrichment and a common witness for Christians who, to a large extent, share with their Muslim compatriots the same history, the same socio-economic problems and the same political destiny. Moreover, the Churches are convinced of the importance of dialogue with Muslims and this is one of the tasks where there is room for mutual agreement. Within this framework moreover, dialogue does not remain intellectual and theoretical but has a concrete effect on elements of daily life.
In the Middle East, the active presence and dynamic witness of Christians is particularly important, for they are engaged together in the struggle for justice and peace. It is therefore indispensable that a new impetus be given to the spiritual and social mission of the Churches in the countries of the Middle East, where the establishment of a just, total and lasting peace and an equitable and satisfactory solution to the problem of the Holy City of Jerusalem are seen as priorities.
Lebanon, where the Catholic Church and the Catholicosate of Cilicia have a tangible historical presence, is the particular context in which they carry out their mission. The efforts of the Lebanese for reconciliation and reconstruction of their country must not disregard the moral and religious values that constitute the identity of the great Lebanese family itself. They must also work to fully restore their country’s identity, while respecting its freedom and pluralism, its unity, its sovereignty and its specific vocation in this region and in the world!
At the close of the second Christian millennium and the approach of the 17th centenary of the Armenian Church, His Holiness Pope John Paul II and His Holiness Aram I thank and glorify the Holy Trinity who gives the spiritual strength to adhere firmly to the imperatives of the apostolic faith and the pastoral mission. They exhort their clergy and faithful to work ardently for the love, reconciliation, justice and peace demanded by the Gospel in anticipation of the coming of the kingdom of God.