By BosNewsLife News Center with reporting by Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN (BosNewsLife)– In historic remarks Pope Francis marked the 100th anniversary of the mass killings of mainly Christian Armenians by calling it “the first genocide of the 20th century,” a move that was expected to provoke anger in Turkey.
Francis, who has close ties to the Armenian community from his days in Argentina, said it was his duty to honor the memory of the innocent men, women, children, priests and bishops who were “senselessly” murdered under Ottoman rule.
“Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it,” he said during a Mass on Sunday, April 12, in the Armenian Catholic rite in St. Peter’s Basilica honoring the centenary.
Among those listening was Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, whose country has long been lobbying to recognize the killing of some 1.5 million Armenians as genocide.
Turkey denies claims by Armenia and several historians that they were systematically killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, saying many died as a result of hunger and general warfare.
The Turkish government also says the death toll was much smaller.
Ahead of the pope’s announcement Turkey’s embassy to the Vatican reportedly canceled a planned press conference, apparently after learning that the leader of more than a billion Catholics would utter the word “genocide” despite its opposition to the term.
Several countries recognize the massacres as genocide, such as Argentina, Belgium, Canada, France, Italy, Russia and Uruguay. However only Italy and the United States have avoided using the term officially because Turkey is a crucial ally, including in the NATO military alliance.
The pope’s remarks came on the day he was to declare the mystic St Gregory of Narek a doctor of the church. Only some 35 people have been given the title, according to estimates by the Associated Press news agency.
Pope Francis has in recent weeks called for prayers for persecuted Christians around the world.