Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni. CNS photo/Massimiliano Migliorato, Catholic Press Photo

Patriarch’s family survived by fleeing genocide

  • July 2, 2015

BEIRUT - Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni, the head of the Armenian Catholic Church since 1999, died of a heart attack June 25 in Lebanon. He was 75.

The son of displaced parents who fled Turkey to Egypt in 1915 during a campaign by the Ottoman government to rid the country of the minority Armenian community, Patriarch Bedros was born in Cairo and rose to become an influential Catholic voice advocating for the rights of Christians in the Middle East.

Patriarch Bedros concelebrated a Mass commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica April 12. The Pope said during the Mass that humanity had lived through “three massive and unprecedented tragedies the past century: the first, which is generally considered ‘the first genocide of the 20th century,’ ” struck the Armenian people.

In a telegram addressed to the Patriarchal Synod of the Patriarchate of Cilicia of the Armenians in Beirut, Pope Francis recalled his recent close collaboration with the patriarch, particularly in ceremonies declaring St. Gregory of Narek as a Doctor of the Church, reported Zenit, a Catholic news agency. Pope Francis remembered the patriarch as a “devoted pastor who, as a priest, dedicated himself tirelessly to the service of the communities for whom he was responsible.” He also recalled his zealous ministry as a bishop, first in Alexandria and then as patriarch of Armenians.

“I join in prayer with all those who are affected by his sudden passing and convey my apostolic blessing, in particular to the bishops of the Patriarchate of Cilicia of the Armenians, the family of the deceased and all those who are to attend his funeral,” Pope Francis said.

Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan said in an e-mail to Catholic News Service that the Armenian Catholic Church, as well the Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East, “lost a highly esteemed spiritual shepherd.”

The two patriarchs shared a tragic ancestral history related to the genocide.

“Since I am also a descendant of parents, who like his parents, fled (Turkey), I can say that I was intimately close to the late beloved Patriarch Nerses, sharing with him fear and anguish for the survival of Christians and many other minorities in the Middle East,” he said.

Younan, whose parents took refuge in Syria, explained that Patriarch Bedros “was so concerned, and used to lament for his community, tragically proven by the civil wars going on for years in the Middle East and particularly in Syria.”

Born in Cairo, he was the fifth of eight children. He was ordained a priest in Cairo in 1965 and appointed bishop of Alexandria in 1989. He was elected patriarch of the Armenian Catholic Church Oct. 7, 1999.

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