Rome Newsroom, (CNA) – Pope Francis paid tribute to the late Armenian Catholic Patriarch Gregory Peter XX Ghabroyan in a letter read aloud at his funeral on Saturday.
Patriarch Ghabroyan, who led the Armenian Patriarchate of Cilicia in Lebanon, died on May 25 in Beirut at the age of 86.
“I remember well that when he was elected, in the summer of 2015, before accepting he wanted to ask me for a special blessing, to be able to lead the Patriarchal Church despite his advanced age,” Pope Francis wrote in the letter that was read at the funeral in Beirut on May 29.
The pope wrote that Patriarch Ghabroyan had “faced the loss of his physical strength with dignity” in the “last period of his earthly pilgrimage.”
“During these years, as a caring pastor, His Beatitude presided over the Patriarchal Church of Cilicia of the Armenians, establishing contacts with various civil and ecclesiastical institutions, so that a number of initiatives of solidarity with the most tried populations, especially in Syria and Lebanon, could be supported,” he said.
Pope Francis recalled “many special moments” in which he was able to be close to the patriarch.
“And, with him, to the beloved Armenian people, who have suffered so much throughout history but have always remained faithful to their profession of faith in Christ the Savior,” he wrote.
The pope remembered in particular his apostolic trip to Armenia in 2016 and the 2018 inauguration of a statue of Saint Gregory of Narek in the Vatican Gardens.
The patriarch’s funeral was held in the Armenian Catholic Cathedral of St. Gregory the Illuminator-St. Elias in Beirut on May 29.
Cardinal Mario Zenari, the apostolic nuncio in Syria, read aloud the pope’s letter at the funeral.
Archbishop Boutros Marayati of the Catholic Armenians of Aleppo presided over the funeral and Auxiliary Bishop Kevork Assadourian of Beirut of the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate delivered the homily.
“First of all, the late patriarch was a lover of the poor, as evidenced by the assistance and closeness he wished to offer, away from the spotlight, in favor of poor families especially over these last two years when Lebanon is experiencing unsustainable economic and social conditions,” Bishop Assadourian said, according to Vatican News.
“Even on his hospital bed he continued to manage, organize and convene meetings trying to meet the needs of his Church and his people,” he said.
Ghabroyan was born in Aleppo, Syria on November 14, 1934. He was ordained a priest of the Institute of Patriarchal Clergy of Bzommar in 1959, at the age of 24. In 1977 he was ordained a bishop and appointed the Armenian Apostolic Eparch of France.
He stepped down as the Armenian Eparch of France in 2013, but came out of retirement at the age of 80 after his election as patriarch on July 24, 2015.
Ghabroyan led the Armenian Catholic Church, an Eastern Catholic Church in full communion with the Pope. The Church uses the Armenian rite, and is estimated to have 1 million followers.
In Armenia, 93 percent of the population belongs to the Armenian Apostolic Church – an Oriental Orthodox Church from which the Armenian Catholic Church was formed in the 18th century.
Ghabroyan will be buried in the cemetery reserved for Armenian patriarchs in the Convent of Our Mother of Bzommar in Lebanon.
“We commend the soul of this our brother to the Mercy of God, to whose throne, we are sure, he is accompanied by the intercessory prayers of the Mother of God Mary Most Holy, of Saint Gregory the Illuminator, and of Saint Gregory of Narek, together with all the Armenian martyrs and saints,” Pope Francis said.