THE Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, Nurettin Canikli, has accused Pope Francis of adopting the “mentality of the Crusades” after the Pope again referred to the slaughter of an estimated 1.5 million Armenian Christians a century ago as “genocide”.
Pope Francis used the term during a visit to Armenia last weekend, when describing the extermination of Armenians inside their homeland (which now forms part of the Republic of Turkey) between 1915 and 1918, as the Ottoman Empire crumbled.
It is the second time that the Pope has referred to the killings as genocide in less than a year. When he first used the term, Turkey, which denies that genocide took place, recalled its ambassador from the Holy See.
Mr Canikli said that the Pope’s words were “greatly unfortunate”, arguing that the term genocide “does not comply with the truth. . . Everyone knows that. We all know it, the whole world knows it, and so do the Armenians.”
In response, the director of the Holy See’s press office, Fr Federico Lombardi SJ, said: “The Pope is not doing Crusades. . . He has said no words against the Turkish people.”
On Saturday, Pope Francis formally paid tribute to the victims at the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial, a monument to those massacred.
He also greeted the descendants of 400 Armenian orphans who were given sanctuary in Rome by his predecessors Pope Pius XI and Pope Benedict XV.
There were no speeches at the memorial, but in the guestbook 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 preserve the memory of the Armenian people. Memories should not be watered down or forgotten; memory is a source of peace and of the future.”
In a joint statement with the Catholicos of All Armenians, Karekin II, he later denounced the ongoing persecution of Christians as “an immense tragedy unfolding before our eyes”.
The pair said: “Countless innocent people” were today “being killed, displaced or forced into a painful and uncertain exile by continuing conflicts on ethnic, economic, political and religious grounds in the Middle East and other parts of the world”.
“Religious and ethnic minorities have become the target of persecution and cruel treatment to the point that suffering for one’s religious belief has become a daily reality,” they said.
They deplored the use of religion as an excuse for spreading “hatred, discrimination and violence”, and prayed for the conversion of the terrorists who are murdering Christians.
“We implore the leaders of nations to listen to the plea of millions of human beings who long for peace and justice in the world, who demand respect for their God-given rights, who have urgent need of bread, not guns,” they said.
They added: “We ask the faithful of our churches to open their hearts and hands to the victims of war and terrorism, to refugees and their families.”
Pope Francis repeated his belief that many Christians who were divided theologically were closely united in an “ecumenism of blood” when they endured persecution together.
He was asked about his use of the word “genocide” during an in-flight press conference on his way back from Armenia. He explained that it was commonly used to describe the tragedy and noted that he had previously used it in public himself a year ago.
The Pope said “it would have sounded strange” if he had avoided the term while visiting Armenia.
The Armenian Apostolic Church — also known as the Oriental Orthodox Church — separated from the Latin Church in the fifth century AD after disputes over the human and divine nature of Christ at the Council of Chalcedon.
For centuries, the Armenian Church was viewed with suspicion by Western Christians, but in recent decades scholars have suggested that their differences were not as stark as they appeared.
Some have argued persuasively that the two branches of Christianity in fact profess the same faith in Jesus but simply use different formulas to articulate it, leading to joint declarations on the humanity and divinity of Christ to be signed between the leaders of the Oriental Orthodox Church and Pope Paul VI in 1971, and Pope St John Paul II in 1996.
Relations have improved so much that 50,000 people attended an evening prayer in Republic Square in Yerevan, during the visit of Pope Francis.
Apology to LGBT people. On his return to Rome, Pope Francis was asked whether he supported a suggestion by the RC Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, that the RC Church should apologise to gay people.
“I will repeat what the Catechism of the Church says, that they [gay people] should not be discriminated against: they should be respected, accompanied pastorally,” the Pope said.
“I think that the Church not only should apologise . . . to a gay person whom it offended but it must also apologise to the poor as well, to the women who have been exploited, to children who have been exploited by work. It must apologise for having blessed so many weapons.”