HOMILY OF JOHN PAUL II
Friday, 10 November 2000
«I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep» (Jn
1. In the year 2001, the
Armenian Church will celebrate the seventeenth centenary of the Baptism of
Armenia through the ministry of Saint Gregory the Illuminator. Following the
Good Shepherd, Saint Gregory laid down his life for his sheep.
Because of his Christian faith, he spent many years imprisoned in a dark
pit by command of King Tiridates. Only
after this cruel suffering was Gregory free once again to bear public witness to
his baptismal vocation in all its fullness and proclaim the Gospel to the men
and women of his time.
The life of Saint Gregory
foreshadowed the journey of the Armenian Church through the ages.
How often has the Armenian Church been cast into the dark pit of
persecution, violence and oblivion! How
often have her children in their prison darkness echoed the words of the Prophet
Micah: «But as for me, I will look to the Lord. I will wait for the God of my
salvation; my God will hear me. Rejoice
not over me, O my enemy! When I
fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light» (7:7-8).
And this not only in the distant past; the twentieth century too has been
one of the most tormented in the history of the Armenian Church, which suffered
terrible hardships of every kind. Now,
thank God, there are clear signs of a new springtime.
2. In today’s celebration,
I am delighted to return to Your Holiness a relic of Saint Gregory the
Illuminator which has been kept in the Convent of Saint Gregory the Armenian in
Naples, and venerated there for many centuries.
The relic will be placed in the new Cathedral now being built in Yerevan
as a symbol of hope and of the Church’s mission in Armenia after so many years
of oppression and silence. A place
in the heart of a fast-growing city in which to praise God, to listen to Sacred
Scripture and to celebrate the Eucharist will be an essential factor of
evangelization. I pray that the Holy Spirit will fill that sacred place with his
loving presence, glorious light and sanctifying grace. My hope is that the new
Cathedral will adorn with still greater beauty the Bride of Christ in Armenia,
where the People of God have lived for centuries in the shadow of Mount Ararat.
Through the intercession of the Mother of God and Saint Gregory the
Illuminator, may the Armenian faithful draw new courage and confidence from
their Cathedral. And may the
pilgrims coming from far and wide experience the power of God’s light
radiating from that holy shrine as they continue their journey of faith.
3. In the Cathedral of
Yerevan, as in all others, there will be the Altar of the Eucharist and the
Patriarchal Chair. The Chair and the Altar speak of the communion which already
exists between us. As the Second Vatican Council declared, «all know the love
with which Christians of the East celebrate the Sacred Liturgy, especially the
Eucharist, well-spring of the Church’s life and pledge of future glory, in
which the faithful united with the Bishop have access to God the Father through
the Son, the Word Incarnate who died and was glorified, by the outpouring of the
Holy Spirit». The Council Fathers
went on to say that the Eastern Churches, «however separated they may be, have
true Sacraments and above all, by virtue of the Apostolic Succession, the
Priesthood and the Eucharist, by means of which they remain united with us by
the closest bonds» (Decree on Ecumenism
Through history there have
been many contacts between the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic
Church; and there have been various attempts to restore full communion.
Now we must pray and work fervently that the day will soon come when our
Sees and the Bishops will be in full communion once more, when we can celebrate
together, at the same Altar, the Eucharist as the supreme sign and source of
unity in Christ. Until that day
dawns, each of our Eucharistic celebrations will suffer the absence of the
brother who is not yet there.
4. Dear and venerable
Brother in Christ, Saint Paul speaks to us in the words we have heard from the
Acts of the Apostles: «Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which
the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the Church of God, which he
acquired with his own blood» (20:28). Ours is a great responsibility.
Christ has entrusted to our
pastoral care that which is most precious to him on earth: «the Church which
he acquired with his own blood».
I beg the Lord, through the
intercession of Saint Gregory the Illuminator, to pour out his abundant
blessings upon you, my Brothers in the Episcopate, and upon all the Pastors of
the Apostolic Armenian Church. May
the Spirit inspire and guide you in your pastoral ministry to the Armenian
people, both in the land of your birth and throughout the world.
To your fraternal prayer I entrust my own ministry as Bishop of Rome:
that I may be able to exercise this ministry more and more as «a service of
love recognized by all concerned» (Encyclical Letter
Ut Unum Sint, 95), so that
will at last be one (cf. Jn
5. Let me conclude with the
fervent plea which I made to the Mother of God thirteen years ago, during the
Marian Year, and which rises from my heart again today:
«O holy Mother of God, ... look upon the land of Armenia, upon its mountains, where a countless host of holy and learned monks have lived; look upon its churches, upon the rocks which rise from rocks, filled with the radiance of the Trinity; look upon the stone crosses, memorials of your Son, whose Passion continues in the suffering of the martyrs. Watch over the sons and daughters of Armenia throughout the world... Inspire the desires and hopes of the young, that they may remain always proud of their origins. Grant that, wherever they may go, they will listen to their Armenian heart, for in those depths there will always be a prayer to their Lord and a sense of surrender to you who cover them with your mantle of refuge. O most sweet Virgin, O Mother of Christ and Mother of us all, Mary» (Homily, Divine Liturgy in the Armenian Rite, 21 November 1987). Amen.
© Copyright 2000 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana