It took less than a day for the Synod of Catholic Bishops of the Armenian Patriarchate of Cilicia to elect their patriarch. Summoned by the Sovereign Pontiff to Rome on September 22, 2021, the Eastern prelates chose Raphaël François Minassian the next day.
The new Catholicos or patriarch, who took the name of Raphael Bedros XXI, was until now titular Archbishop of Caesarea of Cappadocia of the Armenians, and Ordinary of the Armenian faithful of Eastern Europe.
This francophone, born in Beirut in 1946, belongs to a family from the diaspora, since his grandparents were massacred during the genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire in 1915, and his father, an orphan, had taken refuge in Castel Gandolfo, by order of Pope Benedict XV.
Raphaël Bedros XXI obtained his degrees in theology and philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University between 1967 and 1973.
Before being elevated to episcopal dignity, he was ecclesiastical judge in Beirut, professor of Armenian liturgy - a rite introduced by St. Gregory the Illuminator (c. 257-331) considered to be the apostle of Armenia - then exercised his ministry in New York.
In June 2016, Raphaël Minassian received Pope Francis on the occasion of his apostolic trip to Armenia. Interviewed by Asianews, the future patriarch had emphasized the “clear and essential” remarks made by the Roman pontiff the previous year, describing the Armenian populicide as “the first genocide of the twentieth century.”
“For this reason,” Raphaël Minassian rejoiced at the time, “we owe him a debt [of gratitude].”
Following his election, the Armenian Catholicos asked the Holy Father for the Ecclesiastica communio, which consists of an official ratification of the choice of the Armenian Synod.
“The election of Your Beatitude,” writes Pope Francis notes in his letter of confirmation, “takes place at a time when men are particularly tested by diverse challenges. I think of the suffering in 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 vanquished in many parts of the world.”
Before separating from communion with the Apostolic See, the Armenian Church remained united to it until 551, a hundred years after the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
There were various attempts at rapprochement, as at the Council of Florence in 1439, but the origin of the agreement was more political than religious, and the union was rather brief.
It would take until 1740 to see the return of a part of the Armenians to the fold of the Catholic Church, a union sanctioned by the creation of the Patriarchate of Cilicia, of which Raphaël Bedros XXI Minassian has just taken the head.
This patriarchate is physically located in Lebanon, in Beirut, because Cilicia is in Turkish territory, in a region where Islam is particularly virulent against Christians.