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Pope Francis meets with newly elected Armenian Catholic patriarch
Patriarch Raphaël Bedros XXI Minassian. / Courtesy photo.

Vatican City, Sep 24, 2021 / 06:15 am (CNA).

Pope Francis met Friday with the newly elected patriarch of the Armenian Catholic Church.

Patriarch Raphaël Bedros XXI Minassian was elected as the 21st Catholicos-Patriarch of Cilicia of Armenian Catholics during the Eastern Catholic Church’s synod in Rome this week.

He succeeds Patriarch Gregory Peter XX Ghabroyan, who died last May at the age of 86.

“The election of Your Beatitude took place at a time when people are particularly tested by various challenges,” Pope Francis wrote in a letter to the patriarch on Sept. 23.

“I am thinking of the sufferings of Syria and Lebanon — countries where the Church of Cilicia of the Armenians is present — as well as of the pandemic, which is still far from being overcome in many parts of the world.”

The pope wrote that he wished “to join in the joy” of the Armenian Catholic Church and the universal Church at the election of the new patriarch, to which Pope Francis said he gladly granted the required ecclesiastical communion in accordance with tradition.

Before his election as patriarch, Minassian served as the bishop of Armenian Catholics in Eastern Europe since 2011.

He told CNA earlier this year that he felt uncomfortable being addressed as “Your Excellency.”

“I leave everything to divine providence because I’m a very simple clergy working for the Church,” he explained. “‘Excellency,’ etc., are for other people, not for me,” he said in an interview last January.

As patriarch, Raphaël is now responsible for the more than 700,000 members of the Armenian Catholic Church throughout the world.

The Armenian Catholic Church is one of 23 Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris [of its own right] and in full communion with the Catholic Church under the leadership of the pope.

On the day of the patriarch’s meeting with the pope, Sept. 24, the delegation of Armenian Catholics that accompanied him prayed in St. Peter’s Basilica and sang a hymn in front of the tomb of St. Peter.

The main cathedral of the Patriarch of Cilicia is the Cathedral of St. Elias and St. Gregory the Illuminator, in Beirut.

Minassian was born to an Armenian family in Lebanon on Oct. 24, 1946. He was ordained in 1973 in Beirut as a priest of the Patriarchal Congregation of Bzommar, an Armenian Catholic religious congregation of priests founded in 1750.

From 1990 to 2006, he served as a pastor in California, where he helped to create a foundation supporting humanitarian projects in Armenia. He also initiated the construction of St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Catholic Church in Glendale.

In 2005, he was appointed leader of the Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate of Jerusalem and Amman. In 2009, he established perpetual Eucharistic adoration at the church marking the Fourth Station of the Way of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem.

When he was appointed as bishop of Armenian Catholics in Eastern Europe nine years ago, he decided to prioritize the Catholic Church’s social and spiritual mission.

He told CNA that Armenian Catholics show the utmost respect for members of the Armenian Apostolic Church, one of the six ancient Oriental Orthodox Churches and Armenia’s national church.

“There is no difference in the proclamation of the faith between the Armenian Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church. They have the same creed. They have the same liturgy. They have the same prayer,” he said.

He added that, while some clergy emphasized the differences between the two communions, “we don’t have any difficulty or any problematic situation working with everybody and assisting everybody.”

In Pope Francis’ letter to the patriarch, the pope encouraged Armenian Catholics to walk to meet the “Crucified One who is Risen.”

“We know the Armenian people as experts in suffering because of the many trials throughout the more than 1,700 years of Christian history, but also because of its inexhaustible capacity to flourish and bear fruit, through the holiness and wisdom of its saints and martyrs,” the pope wrote.

“The Church which Your Beatitude has been called to lead is fully inserted in the affairs of the Armenian people, preserving their memory and traditions, and at the same time deeply linked to the Successor of the Apostle Peter: I entrust to you the care of the younger generations, the promotion of vocations, and the wise harmony that you must be able to find among the different branches of your community,” he said.