Concelebrating Mass with the Armenian Patriarch of Cilicia on Monday, Pope Francis recalled how persecution has been constant in the Church, from the time of Christ's Passion until now. “Perhaps more than in the early days,” Pope Francis said Sept. 7 during his homily at the Mass said at the chapel of the Vatican's St. Martha guesthouse, Christians “are persecuted, killed, driven out, despoiled, only because they are Christians.” “Dear brothers and sisters, there is no Christianity without persecution. Remember the last of the Beatitudes: when they bring you into the synagogues, and persecute you, revile you, this is the fate of a Christian. Today too, this happens before the whole world, with the complicit silence of many powerful leaders who could stop it. We are facing this Christian fate: to go on the same path of Jesus.”
The Bishop of Rome was concelebrating Mass with Patriarch Gregory Peter XX Ghabroyan of Cilicia, the head of the Armenian Catholic Church. The Patriarch was selected in July, and this was the first Eucharist he shared with the Vicar of Christ.
“Today I would like, on this day of our first Eucharist, as brother Bishops, dear brother Bishops and Patriarch and all of you Armenian faithful and priests, to embrace you and remember this persecution that you have suffered, and to remember your holy ones, your many saints who died of hunger, in the cold, under torture, [cast] into the wilderness only for being Christians,” Pope Francis said.
He referred to the Armenian genocide: in 1915, the Ottoman Empire targeted the Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek Christian minorities in their empire. Some 1.5 million Christians, most of them Armenians, were killed, and millions more were displaced during the genocide.
The Pope called it “one of many great persecutions: that of the Armenian people … the first nation to convert to Christianity: the first. They were persecuted just for being Christians. The Armenian people were persecuted, chased away from their homeland, helpless, in the desert.”
The persecution of Christians began with their head, he reflected: what was done to Christ “has during the course of history been done to his body, which is the Church.”
Francis then turned from the historical persecution of Christians to the present day: “We now, in the newspapers, hear the horror of what some terrorist groups do, who slit the throats of people just because [their victims] are Christians. We think of the Egyptian martyrs, recently, on the Libyan coast, who were slaughtered while pronouncing the name of Jesus.”
He prayed that all Christians may be given “a full understanding, to know the Mystery of God who is in Christ”, who “carries the Cross, the Cross of persecution, the Cross of hatred,” which comes from the anger of persecutors and which is stirred up by “the father of evil.”
“May the Lord, today, make us feel within the body of the Church, the love for our martyrs and also our vocation to martyrdom. We do not know what will happen here: we do not know. Only let the Lord give us the grace, should this persecution happen here one day, of the courage and the witness that all Christian martyrs have shown, and especially the Christians of the Armenian people.”