By editor - 27 June, 2016
“The Pope is on no crusade” the Vatican stressed on Sunday in response to an accusation lobbed at Pope Francis by Turkey over his use of the world genocide in relation to the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1923.
It is a word which Turkey resolutely refuses to use even today in relation to the Ottoman Turks’ slaughter a century ago.
Last year, Pope Francis’ recognition of the genocide caused a row with Turkey, and its ambassador to the Vatican was recalled for a period of ten months in protest.
Ahead of the Pope’s arrival in Armenia on Friday, the Vatican had said he would not use the term genocide, but addressing Armenia’s president, the government and diplomats, the Pontiff departed from his prepared text and spoke about the genocide.
On Saturday, Turkey hit back, with Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli calling the comments untrue, “greatly unfortunate” and saying they bore the hallmarks of the “mentality of the Crusades.”
Turkey continues to deny a genocide took place and accused historians of inflating the toll, arguing that people died on both sides as the Ottoman Empire collapsed amid World War I.
Vatican spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi, said no any formal complaint from Turkey had been received as of Sunday.
Responding to Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli’s comments, he said nothing in Pope Francis’ texts or actions had suggested a Crusades-like mentality.
“It is a spirit of dialogue, of building peace, of building bridges and not walls,” Fr Lombardi said.
“The pope is not doing Crusades,” he added. “He has said no words against the Turkish people.”
Pope Francis left the Armenian capital, Yerevan, on Sunday afternoon at the conclusion of his three-day pastoral visit.
During the visit, the Pope signed a common declaration with Patriarch Karekin giving thanks for progress towards Christian unity, while also appealing for peace in the world.
He visited the nation’s genocide memorial museum, took part in an ecumenical prayer vigil for peace, travelled to the northern city of Gyumri and to the monastery of Khor Virap, close to the border with Turkey, where the country’s rulers became the first to adopt Christianity as a state religion in the year 301.
In a symbolic gesture, Pope Francis and the Catholicos of all Armenians Karekin II watered a tree symbolising Armenia’s many Christians living in the diaspora so that they may bear fruit, signifying new life.
The two Church leaders took up amphoras at the end of Saturday’s ecumenical prayer for peace in Yerevan and poured water over the earth which had been gathered by children residents of Armenia and elsewhere across the world and placed in a vessel resembling Noah’s Ark.
Armenia is home to Mount Ararat where, according to legend, Noah landed his Ark after the Great Floods.
Tens of thousands of Armenia’s Christians fled the country in the 1900s during Ottoman massacres.
On Saturday, Pope Francis paid his respects at Armenia’s imposing genocide memorial and greeted descendants of survivors of the 1915 slaughter.
In the memorial guest book, the Pope wrote: “Here I pray with sorrow in my heart, so that a tragedy like this never again occurs, so that humanity will never forget and will know how to defeat evil with good…May God protect the memory of the Armenian people. Memory should never be watered-down or forgotten. Memory is the source of peace and the future.”
Pope Francis and Catholicos Karekin II, leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church on Sunday signed a common declaration, giving thanks for the progress towards Christian unity, and appealing for peace in the Middle East and other regions torn apart by conflict, terrorism and religious persecution.
At the conclusion of a three-day pastoral visit, the Pope joined the Patriarch in calling for a peaceful resolution in neighbouring Nagorno-Karabakh.
In the statement, the two religious leaders pray for a change of heart in all who commit violence, as well as imploring leaders of nations to hear the cry of those people “who have urgent need of bread, not guns”.
They acknowledge all that is already being done to support victims of violence, but they insist that much more is needed on the part of political leaders and the international community to ensure 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.