Address of Most Reverend Rubén Tierrablanca Gonzalez, OFM
apostolic vicar of istanbul
on the occasion of the enthronement of his beatitude sahak ii
as 85th armenian patriarch of istanbul
11 January 2020
I am honoured to lead the delegation of the Holy See on the auspicious occasion of your enthronement, and would like to convey once again the heartfelt prayerful best wishes of His Holiness Pope Francis as Your Beatitude takes up the most lofty ministry as the 85th Armenian Patriarch in Turkey. The presence of our delegation here today is yet another sign of the continuing development of closer fraternal relations between the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church.
The relationship between our Churches, which dates back to the first centuries of the Christian era, entered a new phase after the Second Vatican Council, a phase in which we can have real hope that whatever still divides us can be overcome, as we eagerly look forward to the dawn of that joyful day which will find us in full communion.
In the words spoken by His Holiness Catholicos Vasken I during his visit to Rome in 1970, “We have remembered, as in a reawakening, that we have been brothers for the past two thousand years”. As such, we are learning not only to respect but also to love one another once again. Indeed, the Catholic Church has deep admiration for the witness borne by the Armenian Church to our common Christian faith which is more precious than gold, and which for you in a particular way has been tested by fire (cf. I Peter I:7).
There have been increasing contacts between the Catholic Church and the Armenian Patriarchate in Turkey, not only in Istanbul but also in Rome in 1999 and 2002 when your predecessor of blessed memory, His Beatitude Mesrob II, met with Pope John Paul II on both occasions. In recent years four Popes have visited this time–honoured Patriarchate: Pope Paul VI in 1967, Pope John Paul II in 1979, Pope Benedict XVI in 2006 and Pope Francis in 2014 when he visited in hospital your beloved predecessor. Such gestures of authentic friendship makes it clear that our relationship has reached a stage when the joy of one of our Churches is the joy of the other, just as the sorrow of one is the sorrow of the other.
I conclude, Your Beatitude, by recalling the visit in 2006 of Pope Benedict XVI to your venerable predecessor, on which occasion the Pope quoted one of the great Doctors of the Armenian Church, Nerses of Lambron, who wrote in the thirteenth century these words of encouragement: “Now, since we all need peace with God, let its foundation be harmony among the brethren. We have prayed to God for peace and continue to do so. Look, he is now giving it to us as a gift: let us welcome it! We asked the Lord to make his holy Church solid, and he has willingly heard our plea. Let us climb therefore the mountain of the Gospel faith!” (Synodal Discourse).
These words of Nerses have lost nothing of their power. It is my sincere hope, Your Beatitude, that during your period of service as Patriarch of the Armenians in Turkey, the Lord will not only bestow upon you an abundance of divine blessings, but also give both our Churches the grace to respond ever more fully and positively to the unifying action of the Spirit, so that the imperfect communion we now share will grow towards perfection, for the glory of God and the salvation of the world.
Your Beatitude, it is an honor and a joy for me to offer you this gift that His Holiness Pope Francis has asked me to convey. Every gift is a sign of friendship, but as this gift is the Cross of our Lord, it also signifies our fraternity in Christ, rooted in our communion in the Cross, through which we have eternal life. This Cross is also the sign of the common pastoral ministry in the apostolic succession that we share.
May I also express the hope that this Cross be a sign of the prayer of Christ before his Passion, when he implored “that all may be one, so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21). Only communion with Christ and communion between Christians in Christ can give compelling credibility to our witness before the world. I would like therefore to accompany this gift with the prayer that our Churches, through increasing communion in the Cross of Christ, may become increasingly true Sister Churches so that they may fulfil their mission to gather all of humanity into fraternity.