The first comes Sunday, as Francis celebrates a Vatican Mass commemorating the 100th anniversary of what Armenians call a genocide, in which as many as 1.5 million Armenians perished at the hands of Turks, and what Turks insist on terming an unfortunate loss of life created by a civil conflict.
Inés San Martín of Crux reported this week that in the run-up to the anniversary, Francis finds himself trapped between two imperatives: Denouncing the Armenian genocide as a harbinger of today’s waves of anti-Christian persecution, while not alienating a strategically crucial nation regarded as a potential force for moderation in the Islamic world.
Francis knows what’s at stake. When he visited Turkey in late November, President Recep Erdoğan offered the pontiff a deal: You take up the fight against Islamophobia in the West, and I’ll defend Christians in the Middle East. It’s a potential game-changer, one Francis probably doesn’t want to sacrifice because of an avoidable diplomatic row.
On the other hand, Francis has become increasingly outspoken on anti-Christian persecution. He’s angrily accused the world of “trying to hide” Christian suffering, and he’s even broken with the Vatican’s typical opposition to any military intervention in the Middle East to offer carefully circumscribed support for an anti-ISIS use of force.
Perhaps one could argue that the truly bold thing for Francis to do is to show restraint, playing the long game with the Turks rather than indulging an emotional desire to point fingers. Holding the anniversary Mass in itself certainly puts the world on alert that he hasn’t forgotten what happened a century ago.
In any event, it will be fascinating to watch how Francis navigates the dilemma.
This is how Pope Francis navigated his dilemma this morning:
Greeting of the Holy Father
Mass for the Faithful of the Armenian Rite
12 April 2015On a number of occasions I have spoken of our time as a time of war, a third world war which is being fought piecemeal, one in which we daily witness savage crimes, brutal massacres and senseless destruction. Sadly, today too we hear the muffled and forgotten cry of so many of our defenseless brothers and sisters who, on account of their faith in Christ or their ethnic origin, are publicly and ruthlessly put to death – decapitated, crucified, burned alive – or forced to leave their homeland.
Today too we are experiencing a sort of genocide created by general and collective indifference, by the complicit silence of Cain, who cries out: “What does it matter to me? Am I my brother’s keeper?” (cf. Gen 4:9; Homily in Redipuglia, 13 September 2014).
In the past century our human family has lived through three massive and unprecedented tragedies. The first, which is widely considered “the first genocide of the twentieth century” (JOHN PAUL II and KAREKIN II, Common Declaration, Etchmiadzin, 27 September 2001), struck your own Armenian people, the first Christian nation, as well as Catholic and Orthodox Syrians, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Greeks. Bishops and priests, religious, women and men, the elderly and even defenceless children and the infirm were murdered. The remaining two were perpetrated by Nazism and Stalinism. And more recently there have been other mass killings, like those in Cambodia, Rwanda, Burundi and Bosnia. It seems that humanity is incapable of putting a halt to the shedding of innocent blood. It seems that the enthusiasm generated at the end of the Second World War has dissipated and is now disappearing. It seems that the human family has refused to learn from its mistakes caused by the law of terror, so that today too there are those who attempt to eliminate others with the help of a few and with the complicit silence of others who simply stand by. We have not yet learned that “war is madness”, “senseless slaughter” (cf. Homily in Redipuglia, 13 September 2014).
Dear Armenian Christians, today, with hearts filled with pain but at the same time with great hope in the risen Lord, we recall the centenary of that tragic event, that immense and senseless slaughter whose cruelty your forebears had to endure. It is necessary, and indeed a duty, to honour their memory, for whenever memory fades, it means that evil allows wounds to fester. Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it!
I greet you with affection and I thank you for your witness.
With gratitude for his presence, I greet Mr Serž Sargsyan, the President of the Republic of Armenia.
My cordial greeting goes also to my brother Patriarchs and Bishops: His Holiness Kerekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians; His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, His Beatitude Nerses Bedros XIX, Patriarch of Cilicia of Armenian Catholics; and Catholicosates of the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Patriarchate of the Armenian Catholic Church.
In the firm certainty that evil never comes from God, who is infinitely good, and standing firm in faith, let us profess that cruelty may never be considered God’s work and, what is more, can find absolutely no justification in his Holy Name. Let us continue this celebration by fixing our gaze on Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, victor over death and evil!