Pope Francis may be going to Armenia, Vatican Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi confirmed on Friday.
“It is true that a trip to Armenia in late June is being assessed,” the director of the Holy See press office said, but Vatican planners had not yet visited the country and neither the dates nor the program have been finalized. He added that the most likely period was “the second half of June.”
Armenians were the first to adopt Christianity as a national religion, by tradition in 301 AD.
Up to 95% of Armenians follow Christianity, Armenia has its own church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, which most Armenians follow. The Vatican says about 280,000 are Catholic, belonging either to the Latin-rite or to the Armenian Catholic Church, an Eastern church in full communion with Rome.
Pope’s visit to Armenia comes a year after he celebrated a special Mass to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians. The Pontiff described the mass slaughter of Armenians 100 years ago as a genocide.
Pope Francis angered Turkey last year when he termed the mass slaughter of the Armenians in 1915, Genocide. Turkey immediately recalled its ambassador to the Vatican home in protest and accused the pope of spreading hatred. Turkey denies a genocide took place and insists those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.
Francis, who established a special relationship with the Armenian community from his days in Argentina, defended his pronouncement by saying it was his duty to honor the memory of the innocent men, women and children who were “senselessly” murdered by Ottoman Turks 100 years ago this month.
During the mass also Pope Francis also proclaimed a 10th-century Armenian monk, St Gregory of Narek, a “doctor of the church”. The mystic and poet is celebrated for his writings, some of which are still recited each Sunday in Armenian churches.
Pope John Paul II visited Armenia in 2001, when they were celebrating the 1700th anniversary of adopting Christianity as a state religion.