VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Reinforcing bonds of dialogue and respect with Orthodox leaders and visiting small Catholic communities, Pope Francis will travel to Armenia in late June and to Georgia and Azerbaijan in the fall, the Vatican announced.
The Armenia trip June 24-26 comes in response to an invitation from the patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Karekin II, and from the government, the Vatican said. Traveling to Georgia and Azerbaijan Sept. 30-Oct. 2, the pope is accepting an invitation from Georgian Patriarch Ilia II and the governments of the two nations, the Vatican said.
Announcing the trips April 9, the Vatican did not provide details of the pope’s itinerary. Releasing the dates of both trips at the same time was seen as a diplomatic necessity given the ongoing dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave in Azerbaijan. The ethnic Armenian majority of Nagorno-Karabakh voted in 1988 to unify with Armenia. Fighting continued until a cease-fire was reached in 1994, although the enclave’s status was never fully resolved. Sporadic fighting has occurred since, most recently April 1-3.
In all three nations, Pope Francis will be the second pope to visit. Pope John Paul II visited Armenia in 2001, Georgia in 1999 and Azerbaijan in 2002.
According to Vatican statistics, Catholics make up about 9.6 percent of the population in Armenia, about 2.4 percent of the population in Georgia and less than 1 percent of the population in Azerbaijan. Almost 97 percent of the population in Azerbaijan is Muslim. The majority in Armenia are Oriental Orthodox and in the majority in Georgia are Orthodox.