Pope Benedict XVI met with 20,000 people in St. Peter’s Square during his general audience on May 7. His Holiness Karekin II, supreme patriarch and catholicos of All Armenians who was in Rome to visit the Holy Father, was present at the audience. The Pope addressed words of greeting to him prior to his catechesis:
It is my great joy today to greet His Holiness Catholicos Karekin II, supreme patriarch and catholicos of All Armenians, and the distinguished delegation accompanying him. Your Holiness, I pray that the light of the Holy Spirit will illumine your pilgrimage to the tombs of the apostles Peter and Paul, the important meetings you will have here, and particularly our personal conversations. I ask all who are present today to pray for God’s blessing upon this visit.
Your Holiness, I thank you for your personal commitment to the growing friendship between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church. In 2000, soon after your election, you came to Rome to meet Pope John Paul II, and a year later, you graciously received him in Holy Etchmiadzin. You came once again to Rome together with many Church leaders from East and West, for the funeral liturgy of Pope John Paul II. I am sure that this spirit of friendship will be further deepened during the coming days.
In a niche outside of St. Peter’s Basilica, there is a fine statue of St. Gregory the Illuminator, founder of the Armenian Church. It serves to remind us of the severe persecutions suffered by Armenian Christians, especially during the last century. Armenia’s many martyrs are a sign of the power of the Holy Spirit working in times of darkness, and a pledge of hope for Christians everywhere.
Your Holiness, dear bishops and dear friends, together with you I implore almighty God, through the intercession of St. Gregory the Illuminator, to help us grow in unity, in one holy bond of Christian faith, hope and love.
Pope Benedict then continued with his formal catechesis, which he devoted to the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church as the Church prepares for Pentecost Sunday. The Pope emphasized the Holy Spirit’s role in sustaining our efforts to overcome divisions and to work for Christian unity.
Dear brothers and disters,
As you see, His Holiness Catholicos Karekin, supreme patriarch and catholicos of All Armenians, is with us this morning, accompanied by a distinguished delegation. I would like to express once again my joy at being able to welcome him this morning.
His presence with us today renews our hope for full unity among all Christians. I joyfully seize upon this occasion to thank him for warm reception he gave Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, my secretary of state, during his recent visit to Armenia. It is with pleasure that I also remember the catholicos’ unforgettable visit to Rome shortly after his election in the year 2000. Upon meeting him, my beloved predecessor, John Paul II, presented him with a famous relic of St. Gregory the Illuminator and shortly afterwards went to Armenia to visit him there.
The commitment of the Armenian Apostolic Church to ecumenical dialogue is well-known and I am sure that this visit of the venerable supreme patriarch and catholicos of All Armenians will contribute to strengthen the bonds of fraternal friendship between our churches.
These days of preparation for the solemnity of Pentecost, which will soon be upon us, spur us to renew our hope in the Holy Spirit’s help in order to persevere on the road to ecumenism. We can be certain that the Lord Jesus will never abandon us in our quest for unity because his Spirit is tirelessly at work in order to sustain our efforts to overcome every division and to mend every tear in that living fabric which is the Church.
This is exactly what Jesus promised his disciples during the final days of his mission here on earth as we just heard in the reading from the Gospel where he assured them of the Holy Spirit’s help, which he would send so that they might continue to experience his presence (see John 14:16-17).
This promise became a reality when Jesus entered the Upper Room after his resurrection and greeted his disciples with the words, “Peace be with you,” and breathing on them said, “Receive the Holy Spirit’ (see John 20:22). He then gave them authority to forgive sins.
The Holy Spirit is, therefore, the power that forgives sins and that renews our hearts and our lives, thereby renewing the earth and creating unity where before there was division. On the feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit revealed himself to us through other signs: the strong driving wind, tongues of fire, and the apostles speaking in different tongues. This was a sign that division that occurred after the Tower of Babel, which was the consequence of a pride that causes divisions among men, had been overcome by the Spirit, who is love and who brings about unity in diversity.
From the first moment of its existence, the Church has spoken in every tongue — thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit and to these tongues of fire — and lives in every culture, destroying none of the various gifts — of the various charisms — but gathering everything together in a new and wonderful unity that is a source of reconciliation: unity in a multitude of forms.
The Holy Spirit, who is eternal love, the bond of unity in the Trinity, unites mankind, which has been scattered, in the power of God’s love, thereby creating the great and multifaceted community of the Church throughout the entire world.
In the days following Our Lord’s Ascension until Pentecost Sunday, the disciples were gathered together with Mary in the Upper Room to pray. They knew that they themselves were not able to establish the Church and organize it.
It was through God’s initiative that the Church would be established and organized. The Church is not our creation but a gift from God. This is the only way in which unity is created, a unity that will grow.
The Church throughout the ages, especially during the nine days between the Ascension and Pentecost, has united itself spiritually with the apostles and with Mary in the Upper Room to beg unceasingly for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Under the impulse of this strong driving wind, the Church will be able to proclaim the Gospel to the furthest ends of the earth.
For this reason, despite the difficulties and divisions, Christians can neither resign themselves to nor give in to discouragement. This is what the Lord asks us: to persevere in prayer in order to keep alive the flames of faith, hope and charity, which nourish our longing for complete unity.
Ut unum sint! says the Lord. Christ’s invitation still resounds in our hearts — an invitation that I was able to reiterate during my recent apostolic journey to the United States of America, where I referred to the centrality of prayer in the ecumenical movement.
In this time of globalization, and, at the same time, of fragmentation, “without prayer, ecumenical structures, institutions and programs would be deprived of their heart and soul” (Ecumenical Encounter in the Church of St. Joseph in New York, April 18, 2008).
Let us give thanks to the Lord for the goals that have been achieved through ecumenical dialogue thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit.
Let us remain docile to listening to his voice so that our hearts, full of hope, might persevere unceasingly on the path that leads to full communion among all Christ’s disciples.
St. Paul, in the letter to the Galatians, reminds us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
These are the gifts from the Holy Spirit that we beseech today for all Christians, so that in the mutual and generous service to the Gospel, they can be a sign in the world of God’s love for mankind.
With trust, let us turn our gaze to Mary, the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit, and through her, let us pray, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love.” Amen!