VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has given a gift of sorts to Armenian Catholics commemorating the 100th anniversary of the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks, declaring a revered 10th-century mystic and poet, St. Gregory of Narek, a doctor of the church.
The Vatican said Monday that Francis had agreed to bestow one of the highest church honors on Gregory after the decision was taken by the Vatican's saint-making office. The designation, however, clearly reflects a desire of Francis, who as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was particularly close to the Armenian community in Buenos Aires.
The title of doctor of the church is reserved for people whose writings have greatly served the universal church. Only 35 people have been given the title, including St. Augustine, St. Francis de Sales and St. Teresa of Avila.
Gregory, who lived around 950 to 1005, is considered one of the most important figures of medieval Armenian religious thought and literature. His Book of Prayers, also called the Book of Lamentations, is his best-known work, a mystical poem in 95 sections about "speaking with God from the depths of the heart."
The designation comes a few weeks before Francis celebrates a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica to commemorate the centenary of the start of the Armenian massacre.
Several European countries recognize the massacres as a genocide; Turkey, however, denies that the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.
Francis provoked Turkish anxiety when in June 2013 he told a visiting delegation of Armenian Christians that the massacre was "the first genocide of the 20th century."
The Vatican spokesman subsequently said the remarks were in no way a formal or public declaration and therefore didn't constitute a public assertion by the pope that genocide took place.