YEREVAN, Armenia — In a joint declaration signed Sunday, Pope Francis and Catholicos Karekin II expressed their shared belief that, when the family is no longer seen as sacred, it falls into crisis.
“The secularization of large sectors of society, its alienation from the spiritual and divine, leads inevitably to a desacralized and materialistic vision of man and the human family,” the June 26 declaration said. “In this respect we are concerned about the crisis of the family in many countries.”
“The Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church share the same vision of the family, based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between man and woman.”
The joint declaration was signed by the Pope and Catholicos Karekin II on Jun 26, the final day of Pope Francis’ three day visit to Armenia. Addressed issues such as persecution and discrimination, while acknowledging the positive steps toward unity between the Church of Rome and the Armenian Apostolic Church.
In the declaration, Pope Francis and Catholicos Karekin II expressed thanksgiving to God for the ongoing and “growing closeness in faith and love between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church in their common witness to the Gospel message of salvation in a world torn by strife and yearning for comfort and hope.”
The letter recalled the various steps taken towards unity, including St. John Paul II’s 2001 visit to mark the 1700th anniversary of Christianity in Armenia, as well as the solemn liturgy last April, commemorating the 1915 Armenian genocide.
“We praise the Lord that today, the Christian faith is again a vibrant reality in Armenia, and that the Armenian Church carries on her mission with a spirit of fraternal collaboration between the Churches, sustaining the faithful in building a world of solidarity, justice and peace.”
The declaration addressed the “immense tragedy” seen in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world of killings, displacement, and exile, which have resulted in the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, “to the point that suffering for one’s religious belief has become a daily reality.
“The martyrs belong to all the Churches and their suffering is an ‘ecumenism of blood’ which transcends the historical divisions between Christians, calling us all to promote the visible unity of Christ’s disciples.”
The Pope and the Catholicos prayed for a “for a change of heart in all those who commit such crimes
and those who are in a position to stop the violence.”
They called on world leaders to promote peace and justice for those “who demand respect for their God-given rights, who have urgent need of bread, not guns.”
The declaration decried the unjustifiable acts of hatred, discrimination, and violence in the name of fundamentalist religious values. Citing the letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians, the letter said: “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.”
Francis and Karekin II stressed the importance of respecting religious differences as a “necessary condition for the peaceful cohabitation of different ethnic and religious communities.”
“Precisely because we are Christians, we are called to seek and implement paths towards reconciliation and peace.”
“In this regard we also express our hope for a peaceful resolution of the issues surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh,” a landlocked region in nearby Azerbaijan which has seen ongoing conflict over the past century.
The letter went on to call on the faithful of both Churches to follow Christ’s teaching, and “to open their hearts and hands to the victims of war and terrorism, to refugees and their families.”
“At issue is the very sense of our humanity, our solidarity, compassion and generosity, which can only be properly expressed in an immediate practical commitment of resources,” the declaration reads.
The letter calls on political leaders and the international community to do more in ensuring “the right of all to live in peace and security, to uphold the rule of law, to protect religious and ethnic
minorities, to combat human trafficking and smuggling.”
Amid the divisions seen among Christians, “what unites us is much more than what divides us,” and “this is the solid basis upon which the unity of Christ’s Church will be made manifest,” the declaration said.
The letter acknowledged the successful “new phase” in relations between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church, “strengthened by our mutual prayers and joint efforts in overcoming contemporary challenges.”
“Today we are convinced of the crucial importance of furthering this relationship, engaging in deeper and more decisive collaboration not only in the area of theology, but also in prayer and active cooperation on the level of the local communities, with a view to sharing full communion and concrete expressions of unity.”
“The path of reconciliation and brotherhood lies open before us. May the Holy Spirit, who guides us into all truth, sustain every genuine effort to build bridges of love and communion between us.”
Pope Francis’ June 24-26 to Armenia was organized following the invitation of Karekin II, the nation’s civil authorities, and the Catholic Church.
The visit also comes a little over 100 years after the 1915 Armenian genocide, during which some 1.5 million Christians were killed by the Ottoman Empire, and millions more displaced.
Armenia has an ancient Christian legacy, being the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion, in 301.