Happiness, emotions and a great responsibility: the Pope bequeathed to the Armenian population the commitment to serve the cause of unity and peace. Monsignor Raphael François Minassian is Ordinary for Eastern Europe’s Armenian Catholics. He is a son of this ancient land. Behind the scenes, he accompanied Pope Francis in his intense journey in Armenia in the encounter with a people – the bishop said – that “over the past centuries gave millions of martyrs to the Church, and that continues undergoing suffering and persecution on religious and cultural grounds”. The Pope left, but the population continues to celebrate: “Wherever I go everyone speaks of the Pope’s visit. The Armenian people are inebriated by his presence.”
Monsignor Minassian, what was the most beautiful, touching moment with Pope Francis?
The entire visit, from the first to the last moment.
It was a loving embrace with the Armenian people.
The meetings with the orphan descendants hosted by the Holy Father in Castel Gandolfo and the Mass celebrated in Gyumri were deeply moving. I didn’t expect that 35 thousand people would follow the celebration in such silence. It was impressive. The message of the Holy Father was received word by word. Everything he said. I was moved by the lesson of humbleness, simplicity and affection that the Holy Father transmitted to the Armenian population. In particular, the Divine Liturgy of the Patriarch, when the Catholic and the apostolic clergy exchanged signs of peace, bore fundamental witness to the fact that the Church, despite all difficulties and differences, is united in prayer.
In Tzitzernakaberd, in his visit to the Memorial for the victims of Metz Yeghérn, the Pope had the opportunity to meet descendents of the orphan children that were received in Castel Gandolfo at the time of the genocide. Your brother was one of them. Could you tell us more about this episode?
I couldn’t go, for I had to wait for the Pope’s arrival in Gyumri , but it’s the story of my family. My father is one of the adopted children who travelled to Italy and was hosted in Castel Gandolfo by the Holy Father. He was eventually raised and taken care of by the Salesian fathers, with whom he continued his education and was formed to enter the priesthood. One year before his ordination he met our mother.
For the Armenian people, and for the direct descendants of the “Metz Yeghérn” in particular, how important was the fact that Pope Francis used the term “genocide”?
The Pope is a very pragmatic person, despite his position as a Pope. The Pope has used this term since his years as Cardinal in Buenos Aires, the same word spoken on April 12 2015. He told us himself. It’s a term that cannot change with the passing of time. It remains the same to indicate the same truth. It cannot change according to the occasion. For the Holy Father using the same term in different speeches means reiterating a truth expressed on April 12 2015, and when he still served as Cardinal. That event is recorded in history since 1915 and in the years in which that genocide was perpetrated. There is nothing to hide. We are the first generation after the genocide, and we have been deeply, psychologically touched by that tragedy.
It’s a word that caused a strong reaction also on the part of Turkey. Bergoglio concluded his visit at the Monastery of Khor Virap where the Pope and the Catholicos released two white doves in sign of peace. What is the meaning of this gesture?
It’s a normal gesture we carry out as Christians. Since the first day in Armenia the Pope never stopped praying, inviting everyone to be agents of peace.
The leaders of world powers make war. They are the ones who must listen to these words.
The Pope is not fulfilling a duty. His is a human action for the salvation of humanity to establish peace and live under the eyes of God. Everyone, at all levels, understands the scope of these appeals. Only world powers still need to grasp his appeal for peace.
What will happen now? What is the legacy bequeathed by Pope Francis to the Armenain people?
That of being united; unity means to continue bearing witness to our faith and being agents of peace.