Welcome to commonspace.eu live blog covering the visit of Pope Francis to Armenia from 24-26 June 2016. We will be covering the events during the Papal visit and exploring its historic significance to the Armenian nation, as well as the perspective from the wider region.
We are live from Friday, 24 June at 12.00 Armenian Time (0800 GMT) until Sunday 26 June at 16.00 Armenian time (12.00 GMT). We welcome comments from our viewers on our facebook page, or via twitter @commonspaceEU.
18.31: Pope Francis is now on his way back to the Vatican and we bring to a close this live blog that followed the Papal visit and explored some of the issues that arose from it.
18.30: The Pope is boarding the special Alitalia flight that will take him back to Rome. one should also say that the visit has proceeded with great precision in both time and other asspects.
18.20: The farewell ceremony for the Pope has started at Zvarnots Airport
18.00: Pope Francis will shortly depart Armenia at the end of a three day pastoral visit to this South Caucasus country.
Commonspace.eu political editor summed up the visit and its implications:
This was the visit of the head of the largest Christian Church - the Roman Catholic Church, to one branch of Christianity, the Armenian Apostolic Church, that broke from Rome in the fifth century over a theological argument about the nature of Christ as the son of God. The Pope saw the visit first and foremost as part of the process to bring about reconciliation and eventual re-unification. This theme dominated the visit and the Pope's speeches. For sure this is not something that will happen soon. But Churches think with a longer term perspective than governments, so for the Pope this was an important building block in a long term strategy.
The visit however had also a lot of political significance for Armenia. Locked in a political, military and strategic alliance with Russia, Armenia's special relationship with the Roman Catholic Church presents the possibility of maintaining a balance in the country's global relationship and foreign orientation. Pope Francis has shown a willingness to reach out to the Armenian people that goes way beyond normal Vatican diplomacy. In Armenia over the last three days he has spoken with passion about Armenia's faith, history and suffering. His decision to add to the prepared script and again refer to the atrocities against Armenians in Anatolia in 1915 as genocide would have probably upset some, even within the conservative Vatican diplomacy. Vatican officials in the run up to the visit had briefed the media that he would probably not need to use the word again. There will be a reaction from Turkey, although it may be muted. But apart from the diplomatic sphere, many in Turkey would see the Pope's words as another example of anti Turkish sentiment in Europe.
Peace was supposed to be the other key element of the Pope's visit. Frankly very little was said and many will be dissapointed that the Pope did not use more forceful language to push for peace in the Caucasus.
However overall for Armenian diplomacy this visit was a huge success. Church and State worked well together to deliver this successful visit. The role of Armenia's Ambassador to the Holy See, Mikayl Minasian, in this was significant. The Pope's visit was also an excellent public relations exercise. The media coverage in Europe and world wide was less than was expected, given the brexit news story that has dominated the new right through the Pope's visit. Yet whatever media coverage there was would have generally pleased the Armenians.
For the Vatican the visit was successful too, yet there may be a cost attached to this. The Pope will visit Azerbaijan at the end of September. Quite how that visit will be handled will have to be seen. It will be a different kind of visit. Azerbaijan is a Muslim country with only a very small Catholic community. But the Catholic Church is universal and does not like to have empty spots on the map. The Vatican will therefore have to develop a discourse that can reconcile what the Pope has said in Yerevan with what he may want to say in Baku."
17.20: The Pope and the Catholicos release doves towards the Turkish-Armenian border.
17.15: The Pope is now at the Monastery of Khor Virap where he has lighted a candle and recited a prayer
16.35: The Pope is now on his way to the Khor Virap Monastery which is on the Armenian-Turkish border and which has a splendid view of Mount Ararat, an Armenian symbol which lies within Turkish territory. Vatican spin doctors have been trying to make much of this moment saying that in a symbolic gesture for peace on the part of the Pope two white doves will be released. However many observers think its going to take more than two pigeons to appease Turkey which has been clearly upset by some of the things the Pope has said during his Armenia visit.
16.30: Here is a picture of Pope Francis and the Armenian Catholicos courtesy of the Italian news Agency ANSA
16.25: In the joint declaration agreed between Pope Francis and Cathlicos Karekin II, the Head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, the two religious leaders "hope for a peaceful resolution of the issues surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh"
"Precisely because we are Christians, we are called to seek and implement paths towards reconciliation and peace. In this regard we also express our hope for a peaceful resolution of the issues surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh."
16.22: The declaration has a clear rejection of the two churches of gay marriage. It says
"The secularization of large sectors of society, its alienation from the spiritual and divine, leads inevitably to a desacralized and materialistic vision of man and the human family. In this respect we are concerned about the crisis of the family in many countries. The Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church share the same vision of the family, based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between man and woman."
16.20: Pope Francis and Catholicos Karekin II have signed a joint declaration in which they say
"Over the past decades the relationship between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church has successfully entered a new phase, strengthened by our mutual prayers and joint efforts in overcoming contemporary challenges. Today we are convinced of the crucial importance of furthering this relationship, engaging in deeper and more decisive collaboration not only in the area of theology, but also in prayer and active cooperation on the level of the local communities, with a view to sharing full communion and concrete expressions of unity."
You can read it in full here
16.15: We are extending our coverage of the Pope's visit to Armenia and we hope to bring you soon information on a joint declaration between the catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church.
15.30: Turkey looms large in the last hours of the Pope's visit to Armenia as he visits a monastery close to the Turkish border.
One interesting twist of this story relates to the current leadershipo of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Istanbul. Fides News Agency, which reflects the vatican viewpoint reported it like this a couple of days ago:
A group of Turkish Christians of the Armenian Apostolic Church organized a protest demonstration yesterday, Thursday, June 23, in Istanbul, outside the headquarters of their Patriarchate, to ask the election of a new Patriarch. The episode reveals the degree of tension lived in the Armenian community in Turkey, concerning the leadership of the Patriarchate.
In 2008, the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, Mesrob II, was hit by Alzheimer's disease in a form that has rapidly reduced him to a vegetative state. According to Turkish laws, the office of Patriarch is held for life, and a new Armenian Patriarch cannot be elected until his predecessor is still alive. Since 2008, Archbishop Aram Atesyan exercises the patriarchal duties as Patriarchal Vicar for the ordinary administration of the Patriarchate. But in recent times the criticism and the malaise against him have been reinforced, especially after the letter he sent to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, in which the Patriarchal Vicar expressed "his regret and that of Armenians" for the resolution passed by the German Parliament on the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, defined by him as an attempt to exploit the tragedy of the Armenian people for the interests of "international politics" .According to a statement sent to Agenzia Fides, the group of protesters deposited a black wreath in front of the Armenian Patriarchate, with the inscription: "We want to elect our Patriarch ourselves". The canonical laws provide that the election of a new Patriarch can only happen in case of death or voluntary resignation of his predecessor.
15.20: Some of our readers have asked us what is the meaning of the purple and yellow logo that was seen during the visit of Pope Francis to Armenia. Well this is how Vatican radio has described it:
"This visit of Pope Francis to the first country ever to adopt Christianity as a state religion sports a logo which highlights this historic factor along with the dates of the journey which are the 24th to the 26th of June. It’s a circular logo divided in half by two colours, yellow for the Vatican and purple for the Armenian city of Etchmiadzin,seat of the Armenian Apostolic Church where Pope Francis is staying as a guest of the Catholicos Karekin I
Within the design one can spy the outlines of two significant places in Armenia, snow capped Mount Ararat with its biblical connotations and the Monastery of Kor Virap located on its slopes. A monastery Pope Francis will also visit on Sunday and where Gregory the Illuminator credited for the conversion of this nation to Christianity in 301, so at the beginning of the fourth century, was once held prisoner at the bottom of a well."
14.20: The visit of the Pope to Armenia and his speeches is being closely watched in the region. There has so far been no official comments from Azerbaijan or Turkey. But a senior Turkish Minister has already slammed the Pope for his comments, calling it a language of the crusades. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli reacting to the Pope once more characterising the atrocities against Armenians in Anatolia in 1915 as "genocide" as "unfortunate". "It is possible to see all the hallmarks or reflections of the mentality of the Crusades in the Pope's activities," he said, quoted by the state-run Anadolu news agency.
13.00: The Pope keeps hammering the message of unity between the Churches during his visit to Armenia. Vatican Radio says that n the last day of his three day visit to Armenia, Pope Francis participated Sunday in the Divine Liturgy celebrated by his Oriental Orthodox host, Catholicos of all Armenians Karekin II. In a discourse at the conclusion of the celebration, Pope Francis spoke of his “already unforgettable” visit and prayed that the two Churches “follow God’s call to full communion and hasten to it.”
Thanking Catholicos Karekin for his hospitality, Pope Francis said, “you have opened to me the doors of your home and we have experienced ‘how good and pleasant it is when brothers live in unity’.”
11.45: The Pope and the Armenian Catholicos have led a religious service in Etchmiadzin this morning
11.00: Commonspace.eu political editor commenting on the visit of Pope Francis to Armenia said:
"The Pope's visit is a significant diplomatic coup for Armenia. So far the visit has been a huge success from the Armenian perspective. The Pope has expressed himself in very generous terms when speaking about the Armenian nation, its history, its religious fervour and its suffering. For Armenia this has indeed been a landmark event, and a much needed boost in its international image. The person who can be credited most for this is Armenia's Ambassador to the Holy See Mikayel Minasian. Minasian has been Ambassador to the Holy See since 2013 and has been the architect of the new relationship between Armenia and the Vatican. Mikayel Minasian is well qualified to hold this important post. Not only is he a fluent Italian speaker. He studied in Trieste in the 1990s, and later he authored a doctoral thesis examining the Armenian Question and the Armenian Church 1877-78.Minasian is also uniquely placed to be a bridge between the heart of the Vatican and the centre of the Armenian leadership.
When asked a few days ago what was the message Armenia will send out to the world during the Papal visit, Minasian replied: 'We exist, we are happy and we are proud of our country'. One can imagine that the choice of the tune "Land of Hope and Glory" played and replayed at yesterday's ecumenical service on Yerevan's Republic Square was his choice.
The Catholic Church is a huge a complex organisation, but the Armenians seem to have found a way to engage the Catholic leadership at the highest level. If anyone needed a proof of this, the Pope's visit is it."
10.30: One of our readers has asked us, "Does the Poll tweet?" and the answer is yes. His twitter address is @Pontifex. One must keep in mind that after a slow start, the Vatican these days runs a very sleek public relations organisation
10.15: The issue of unity between the Catholic and the Armenian churches is really the main theme pushed by the Pope during his visit. On Friday the Pope tweeted: "The commitment to full unity and cooperation among all the Lord’s disciples is like a radiant light in a dark night". This afternoon the leaders of the two Churches are expected to sign a common declaration. We will see what is in that.
10.00: This is the last day of the Pope's visit to Armenia. For most of this morning the Pope will be meeting Archbishops and leaders of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and the small Armenian Catholic Church in Echmiadzin.
20.30: We bring to an end our live coverage of the visit of Pope Francis to Armenia. The day started with the visit of the Pope to memorial commemorating the Armenian genocide outside Yerevan, after which the Pope travelled to Gyumri where he celebrated mass and met members of the Armenian Catholic Community who number around The Pope then travelled back to yerevan where this evening he participated in an ecumenical service and prayer for peace in Yerevan's Republic Square. Indeed unity between the Roman Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church remained the main theme of the Pope's visit during this second day of the Papal visit to Armenia. We will be back tomorrow at 10.00 Armenian time (0600 GMT) to cover live the last day of the Pope's visit.
20.20: The Pope has now left Republic Square on his way back to the Apostolic Church in Echmiadzin. His official programme for today is over.
20.17: The Pope is greeting some people in wheelchairs. For the last ten minutes the orchestra has been playing "Land of hope and Glory"
20.15: The service is coming to a close and the Pope is chatting with president Saegsyan prior to his departure.
20:09 The Pope is being presented with a number of gifts, including a small model of Noah's Arc
20.02: The Pope ends his words with the words "peace be with you".
19.57: the Pope addresses young people and asks them to be messengers of peace and reconciliation. He says that he hopes for reconciliation between the Armenian and Turkish people and for peace in Nagorno-Karabakh.
19.54: The Pope condemns those who encourage wars in order that they may sell arms.
19.52: The Pope urges that the journey for unity between the two Churches continues.
19.46: The Pope says that the meetings between the Catholic church and the Armenia Apostolic Churches were "real and intimate".
19.42: The Pope has started speaking at the service. "I came as a pilgrime from Rome to meet you and to extend to you a message from the heart" the Pope said.
19.20: The service started with a reading from the letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
1910: The Pope has now arrived in Yerev's Republic Square accompanied by Catholicos Karekin II and the service is about to start
18.45: A crowd of several thousand people is gathered in Yerevan's Republic Square where Pope Francis is expected to arrive shortly to participate in an event that is being described as a an "ecumenical encounter and prayer for peace" in the official programme of the visit. President Serzh Sargsyan and other dignitaries are already in the square seated with other VIPs. The square is by no means full - the crowds are nothing like one sees during Papal visits to larger countries where the Catholic community is more numerous but those present are holding Papal and Armenian flags and seem to be eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Holy Father. in the meantime the crowd is being entertained by the Natiuonal Philarmonic Orchestra of Armenia led Maestro Hovanes Chekijian.
17.50: The Vatican keeps emphasising the theme of ecumenism as being the central feature of the Pope's visit. The Tablet says that the main message of the Pope's first day in Armenia was ecumenism. The newspaper said that after arriving in Yerevan "the Holy Father was greeted by Karekin who welcomed the Francis by calling the relationship between the two churches as one of “love and brotherhood and fruitful co-operation”.
The newspaper also quoted Father Vahram Melikyan, director of information of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin who said that when the two leaders embraced at the altar, you could see the “warmth and closeness” of the two churches, and the “system of values unity in brotherhood and prayers”.
1745: Many are asking if the Pope's use of the word genocide will harm Turkey's relations with Turkey. The Vatican spokesperson yesterday addressed the issue in his briefing to the media. The british catholic newspaper the Tablet said that when asked about Turkey's reaction, Father Lombardi said: “I cannot speak for Turkey, but I can say that the Pope speaks only and always for peace and dialogue with other cultures - there are many Armenians with good relations with Turkey, and many Turkish people with good relations with Armenia, many who desire peace and dialogue.”
The Pope is expected to speak in Yerevan's main square this evening at 19.00 ;local time when the theme is likely to be peace. It will be interesting to see how he will articulate his message.
17.20: As the Pope returns to Yerevan from his short visit to Gyumri, we take a moment to reflect on the issue of the use of the term genocide by Pope Francis to characterise the atrocities committed against Armenians in Anatolia in 1915. Father Lombardi, spokesperson for the Vatican yesterday evening briefed journalists on the issue:Vatican Radio said that father Lombardi
".......specified the nature of Pope Francis' use of the word 'genocide' for the Metz Yeghern, or 'Great Evil', the massacre of some 1.5 million Armenian people in 1915.
In a speech Friday at the presidential palace to President Serzh Sargsyan, Armenian political and religious leaders and the diplomatic corps, Pope Francis strayed from his prepared text, adding the word "genocide:"
The Pope said `Sadly that tragedy, that genocide, was the first of the deplorable series of catastrophes of the past century, made possible by twisted racial, ideological or religious aims that darkened the minds of the tormentors even to the point of planning the annihilation of entire peoples.'
Fr. Lombardi said this was not the first time that the pontiff has used the term "genocide" to define the Armenian massacre and noted this is "already a clear description of what genocide is." The Vatican spokesman recalled that at a Mass in April 2015 at St. Peter's Basilica marking the Centenary of the Armenian Massacres, Pope Francis had had "very strong words" for the slaughter which the pontiff said was widely considered "the first genocide of the 20th century.''
"Bishops and priests, religious women and men, the elderly and even defenceless children and the infirm were murdered," the pope said.
Modern day Turkey objects to the term "genocide" to describe the deaths of so many Armenians under Ottoman rule, describing them instead as victims of a civil war.
In alluding to the "terrible tragedies of the past century" alongside the Armenian massacre, Fr. Lombardi said Pope Francis was referring to "Nazism and the Soviet regime" and to the fact that "the great international powers had not [lived up to] their responsibility."
15.20: As with the rest of the Papal visit to Armenia, Pope Francis visit to the city of Gyumri is full of important symbolism. The second city of Armenia, Gyumri is known both as an industrial center and a major cultural hub. It was also badly damaged in the massive 1988 earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people.
Catholicos Karekin welcomed the Holy Father warmly, explaining, “Gyumri is one of those historical towns of Armenia where centuries-old Armenican Christian values have flourished,” and introducing the people of Gyumri as, “bearers of a beautiful tradition of Christian brotherly coexistence.”
In his homily, the Holy Father recalled the devastation, giving thanks “for all that has been rebuilt,” and focused on three “stable foundations” on which to build the moral and spiritual future of the nation: memory, faith, and merciful love.
The first foundation, he said, is “memory:” to “recall what the Lord has done in and for us” and that “He has chosen us, loved us, called us and forgiven us.” “The memory of a people” like those in Armenia, also needs to be preserved the Pope added. “Even in the face of tremendous adversity,” he stressed, God has “remembered your faithfulness to the Gospel, the first-fruits of your faith, and all those who testified, even at the price of their blood, that God’s love is more precious than life itself.”
Faith, the Holy Father said, is the second foundation on which to build Christian life. But, he warned, “there is always a danger that can dim the light of faith and that is the temptation to reduce it to something from the past, something important but belonging to another age…to be kept in a museum.”
The third foundation, the Pope added, “is merciful love:” “We are called above all to build and rebuild paths of communion, tirelessly creating bridges of unity and working to overcome our divisions.”
14.36: The French journalist Regis Gente has posted a good picture from Gyumri with the Pope in a rather unusual Pope-mobil. Vatican sources have said that the Pope insists that during his travels he should not use fancy expensive cars.
12.00: The Pope has started celebrating Holy Mass in Gyumri's main square
11.20: the Pope is now on his way to Gyumri. Armenia's second city. The Pope will travel to Gyumri by plan. Gyumri is Armenia's second city, and it also hosts most of Armenia's Roman Catholic Community which consititues about 9% of the population.
11.17: Another picture from this morning's ceremony in Yerevan, this one courtesy of news.am
10.00: Commonspace.eu political editor has commented on the visit of Pope Francis to Armenia so far:
"This is a vist full of symbolism. There are already many moments in the visit that would have pleased enourmously the Pope's Armenian hosts. First there was the moment yesterday when the Pope decided to add to the text of the speech that his advisers had prepared for him, and use the term 'genocide' to reflect the atrocities against the Armenian people committed in 1915. Earlier Vatican sources had suggested that the Pope had used the term once in 2015 and did not need to do so again. In fact the Vatican media has refrained from using the term in any of its broadcasts.
The second moment came this morning when the Pope visited the Tzitzernakaberd memorial in Yerevan.
But make no mistake about it, the Pope has his agenda too. In all his speeches the Pope is pushing the theme of ecumenism and the unity of the Churches. One Armenian blogger noted on his facebook page after listening to the Pope's message to Armenians ahead of the visit "this kind of sounds a bit as if he wants all of us to be rebaptized in catholicism, with Karekin et al'. Well not exactly, but the Catholic Church does hope that the Armenian Church can come back to the fold, 1600 years after it separated. There are many moments during the Pope's visit when the unity of the two churches will be emphasised. So for the leadership of the Vatican this visit has its own special significance too"
09.40: This is how Vatican Radio has reported the Pope's visit to Genocide Memorial
"Pope Francis participated in a prayer service at the Tzitzernakaberd Memorial to the Metz Yeghern, or 'Great Evil', in Armenia on Saturday morning, offering an intercessory prayer and extensive silent prayer for the dead".
09.15: Pope Francis yesterday again used the term "genocide" when referring to the atrocities against Armenians commited in Anatolia at the begining of the 20th centuryIn an address at a welcome ceremony in the presence of Armenia's President Serzh Sargsyan and the diplomatic corps, the Pope appeared to have added the word "genocide" to his prepared text, the BBC reported.
"This tragedy, this genocide, has unfortunately marked the start of a sad series of great catastrophes of the last century," he said.
He added that the killings were "made possible by twisted racial, ideological or religious aims that darkened the minds of the tormentors even to the point of planning the annihilation of entire peoples."
09.00: In perhaps the most symbolic moment of the Pope's visit, this morning he visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial Tsisternakaberd in Yerevan. The Pope was accompanied by Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and the Head of the Armenian Church Karekin II
18:40 - This brings us to the end of this live blog for today. We will back live tomorrow at 0800 Armenia time (0400 GMT)
To summarise the day's events, Pope Francis left Rome early this morning for Yerevan on an Alitalia Special flight. On the plane the Pope was told about the results of the Brexit referendum in the UK, and expressed his concern for the good of the people of the UK and the rest of Europe. The Pope arrived in Armenia at 15.00 and fter a welcome ceremony at the airport led by President Serzh Sargsyan of Armenia and the leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church Karekin II the Pope was driven to the seat of the Armenian Church at Echmiadzin where a crowd of well wishers was on hand to welcome him. In a ceremony at the Echmiadzin Cathedral Pope Francis and Patriarch Karekin II made speeches in which they referred to the process of ecumenism between the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church. As a last public event of the day the Pope paid a courtesy call on the President of Armenia at the Presidential palace in yerevan. The Pontiff and the Armenian leader exchanged gifts and the Pope was introduced to members of the Armenian government and members of the diplomatic corps. The Pope will spend the night at the Apostolic Palace in Echmiadzin.
(Picture left, the Pope and the Catholicos of All Armenians at Echmiadzin. Picture courtesy of Vatican Radio)
18:30 - The Pope will shortly be returning to the Apostolic Palace and Echmiadzin where he is expected to have a Private dinner with Patriarch Karekin II and he will stay the night.
18:00 - Pope Francis has payed a courtesy call on the President of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan at the Presidential palace in yerevan. The two leaders exchanged giofts before proceeding to their meeting. The Pope will shortly meet with government officials and members of the diplomatic corps. ss video here A somewhat odd rendition of the Papal anthemn during the opening ceremony.
17:10 - Pope Francis has made his first speech in Armenia. Speaking at a welcome ceremony at the Cathedral of Echmiadzin, Pope Francis emphasised ecumenism and the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church. (Picture below, courtesy of Rome reports).
17:00 -Pope Francis has said the United Kingdom's vote to leave the European Union entails a "great responsibility" to respect the will of the British people while maintaining "the peaceful coexistence of the entire European continent."
"This requires a great responsibility on the part of all of us to guarantee the good of the people of the United Kingdom as well as the peaceful coexistence of the entire European continent," the pope continued. "This is what I expect."
16:45 - The Italian broadcaster RAI is reporting that the Pope was told of the result of the british referendum on membership of the European Unioon whilst he was on his plane to Yerevan from Rome.
The papal car arrives in Etchmiadzin (picture courtesy of news.am)
16.10 - The Pope has arrived in Etchmiadzin, the seat of the Armenian Apostolic Church. In his welcome address, the Head of the Armenian Church said:
"The visit of Your Holiness is a renewed testament to the brotherly relationships and collaboration of our Churches and is mutually empowering for the faithful of both the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. Your visit also fills us with optimism that our testimonies of faith, reinforced with Christian love, will be felt more strongly in our lives."
16:00 - Pope Francis has arrived in Armenia one hour ago on a special flight of the Italian carrier Alitalia. He was met at the Zvarnots airport by Catholicos Supreme patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Karekin II and by the President of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan and other dignitaries
15:00 - Pope Francis arrives by air at the "Zvartnots" International Airport of Yerevan. His apostolic trip to Armenia begins with a welcome Ceremony
13:45 - During his stay in Armenia the Pope will be the guest of the Catholicos Supreme Patriarch of Armenia, Karekin II at the Apostolic Palace of Echmiadzin. Echmiadzin is the seat of the Armenian Apostolic Church and around the main Apostolic Palace and Cathedral there are a number of other buildings that house museums, offices and other facilities of the Church. The complex also houses a number of historical treasures and archive, and thousands of Armenians from the diaspora, as well as other visitors, travel to the complex every year to admire them.
13:30 - We welcome once more our readers who are following this live blog covering the visit of Pope Francis to Armenia. You may also follow us on facebook and @CommonspaceEU on twitter
The Pope is expected to arrive in Yerevan in less than two hours time and will stay until Sunday evening. On Saturday the Pope will also visit the city of Gyumri, where most of Armenia’s Roman Catholics are concentrated, and where the Catholic Church runs a number of charitable institutions.
13:15 - The Armenian Foreign Ministry says that more than six hundred foreign journalists have been accredited to cover the Pope’s visit. This level of media interest is probably unprecedented for Armenia and the country will seek to make the most out of the event, especially by trying to showcase the country’s tourist potential.
13:00 - Peace is of course on the mind of many Armenians too. The country remains caught in a bloody conflict with its neighbour Azerbaijan – a conflict that erupted again in April leaving hundreds of Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers killed or wounded. Pope Francis is expected to lead a prayer for peace in Yerevan’s republic Square on Saturday afternoon.
12:45 - Perhaps the most emotional moment of the visit is expected tomorrow, Saturday, when the Pope will visit theTzitzernakaberd Memorial Complex - the memorial to the hundreds of thousands of Armenians who perished during the atrocities committed against them in Anatolia at the beginning of the 20th century. Last year the Pope celebrated mass in Rome on the occasion of the centenary of those events and for the first time characterised them as genocide. The Roman Catholic Church has subsequently not used the term again and in all references to it in the run up to the visit has used the Armenian term Metz Yeghern. A Vatican source told the British Catholic newspaperThe Tablet that the Pope has used the term once, and does not need to use it again. Pope Francis wants to emphasise peace and reconciliation during his trip. Holy See spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi told journalists in a briefing earlier this week that the Pope’s visit to Armenia will stress peace and that Francis will release a flock of doves at the Armenian/Turkish border after visiting the memorial in Yerevan.
12:30 - Ecumenism – that is relations between the Churches will be at the heart of Pope Francis visit to Armenia. He visits the country as the guest of Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians. The Armenian Apostolic Church is an Orthodox Church that split from the Church of Rome following the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD.
Around 9% of the Armenian population remain however Roman Catholics. The visit will provide the two Churches with an opportunity to further the dialogue between them and to show their proximity. Pope Francis is known to be a keen advocate of reconciliation between the Christian churches, and his visit should also be seen in this context.
12:15 - This is the 14th overseas trip of Pope Francis. His last overseas trip was to the island of Lesbos in Greece where he helped to raise awareness of the plight of refugees from Syria. Pope Francis will also be visiting the other two countries in the South Caucasus – Azerbaijan and Georgia from 30 September to 2 October. Indeed the spokesperson of the Vatican Father Lombardi, on Tuesday made it a point to emphasise the regional dimension of the Pope’s visit during a briefing to journalists.
12:00 - Good afternoon, and welcome to this live blog on commonspace.eu covering the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis to Armenia. We will be following the Pope’s visit from the moment he arrives in Yerevan in three hours time, to his departure on Sunday evening. In the course of doing so we will explore some of the issues that arise from the Pope’s visit, why this visit is being called historic and implications of the visit for the region.
Pope Francis is expected to leave Ciampino Airport in Rome just about now.
Vatican accredited media boarding papal plane to Yerevan Armenia. With UK now a periphery, is pope visit next? pic.twitter.com/8gNAIGPPzd— Sylvia Poggioli (@spoggioli1) June 24, 2016
Specialists at the University of Sheffield in the UK estimate that the blast had about one tenth of the explosive power of the atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima during World War Two and was "unquestionably one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in history".