It wasnt a very elegant entrance into the holy city of Etchmiadzin. We had all piled into a jeep that morning in the Armenian mountain town of Ashotzk. The papal nuncio was driving, Cardinal Silvestrini was in the front seat and Msgr. Gugerotti and I bounced along in the back.
We thought we had an 11 A.M. appointment with Catholicos Vasken I, Supreme Patriarch of All the Armenians, and we were running a little late.
Well, we did have an appointment, but not as we thought.
Cardinal Silvestrini, Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, had requested an audience with the Catholicos for our small Vatican delegation. The Cardinals mission to present him with a special gift from Pope John Paul II, relics of the holy Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus.
As we pulled into the precincts of the Catholicosate and headed towards the office of the Catholicos, the great bells of the cathedral began to peal in celebration. We hastily got out of our jeep and arranged our robes for what clearly was a major liturgical reception.
A procession of Armenian Apostolic clerics met our quickly improvised entrance procession bearing the reliquaries of the two apostles. Reverently accepting the relics from our hands Msgr. Gugerotti and I bore them they led us into the cathedral.
The Catholicos awaited us at his throne with all the bishops of Armenia grouped around him. Bishops, priests and deacons were solemnly vested. A magnificent choir chanted while the relics were placed on the altar amid candles and flowers.
We were shown to places of honor to either side of the Catholicos. His firm words belying his frail appearance, Vasken I welcomed us bearers of these holy relics with great emotion.
Just as the Church of Rome is founded on Saints Peter and Paul, he said, so the Church of Armenia traces its faith to Saints Bartholomew and Thaddeus. Just as the Apostles were brothers in Christ, so must be the churches founded by them.
Truly we were received as brothers in Christ, notwithstanding all the ancient misunderstandings, competitions and separations between the two churches.
The movement for the reunion of the churches is called ecumenical. It springs from the special impulse of the Spirit of Christ who prayed that all may be one.
Usually its practitioners are canonists and theologians who, often in elaborately orchestrated dialogues and meetings, carefully analyze points of difference and propose formulas for mutual agreement.
The warmth of the experience of Etchmiadzin made me think yet once again how much ecumenism really is more a matter of the heart than of the mind, a matter of friendship and love.
There is a time for dialogue, but there is a time for embracing too. Dont just tell me youre my friend show me! Let your actions speak loud and clear. Come to me, talk to me, spend time with me give me tokens of your love.
Msgr. Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA