The 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and the Hope of Jesus Christ which Overcomes All Evil

Pope Francis greets Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni during an April 12 Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. (CNS photo/Cristian Gennari)

Pope Francis greets Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni during a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. (CNS photo/Cristian Gennari)

On Divine Mercy Sunday, that day when the Church Universal in a special way enters into the mystery of the Lord’s merciful love amidst the suffering and evil that persists in the human experience, Pope Francis celebrated a Mass for the faithful of the Armenian Rite. This special Eucharist was offered in remembrance of the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

Closer to home, pilgrims from around the country have come to Washington, D.C. to participate in the National Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide Centennial. Tomorrow morning, it will be my honor to welcome them to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. There, His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, and His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, will lead a unified celebration of the Armenian Divine Liturgy.

The use of the word “genocide” by Pope Francis to describe what happened 100 years ago generated controversy in some quarters, but it is an accurate characterization of the systematic deportations, forced labor, and mass killings of mostly-Christian Armenians at the hands of the Islamic Ottoman Empire. The total number of people killed during the genocide in the period of 1915-23 has been estimated at upwards of 1.5 million. Many millions more were forced to leave their homelands and find refuge elsewhere around the world.

Following the Pope’s lead, the European Parliament overwhelmingly adopted a resolution recognizing these atrocities as “genocide,” which is defined as the systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of a national, ethnic, racial or religious people. Many other nations around the world have recognized this as well.

The genocide was part of a plan designed to eliminate any Christian Armenian presence in what is now modern-day Turkey amidst the chaos of World War I. Other minority Christian ethnic groups were also targeted for extinction in this land that was once Christian, but had been conquered by Muslim armies centuries ago.

It is crucial, Pope Francis noted at the Mass commemorating the centennial, that we remember and honor the memory of those who suffered the cruelty and senseless slaughter of what he called “the first genocide of the twentieth century.” Today, with the increasing brutalities inflicted upon Christian peoples in the Middle East, parts of Africa and India, we may be witnessing the first genocide of the twenty-first century. Indeed, our Holy Father used the stark and jarring language of a “third world war” in referring to the situation in our time.

“On 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,” the Pope said. “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.”

We cannot be silent, but must speak out for the Christians and religious minorities of today who suffer atrocities at the hands of ISIS, Boko Haram, and other terror groups, continually calling upon the world community to act to assist these peoples. As the tragedies mount, as each day we hear of some new brutality, we must speak out and pray in the hope of the Risen Christ. In him, we know that suffering and death are destroyed and transformed to new life.