On day one of his June 24-26 trip to Armenia, Pope Francis expressed satisfaction for a recent peace deal in Colombia and described the result of the UK’s vote to exit the European Union as a summons to “responsibility”.
In effect, the reactions amounted to a clear papal position on the Colombian peace – Francis supports it – but not so much on the Brexit result, where Francis did little more than voice hope for “coexistence” among the peoples of Europe.
Francis delivered the brief comments at the outset of his three-hour flight from Rome to Yerevan, for what amounts to a single trip to the Caucasus region in two parts, as the pontiff plans to return in September to visit Georgia and Azerbaijan.
Shortly after takeoff, the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, asked Francis if he would offer the roughly 70 journalists travelling aboard the pope’s Airbus A321 Alitalia flight a brief comment on both Colombia and Brexit.
On the recently announced deal between the Colombian government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the main rebel movement, the FARC, Francis clearly had a position.
“I’m happy for this news, which reached me yesterday,” Francis said, who’s previously acknowledged engaging in some telephone diplomacy with Santos to promote an agreement.
“There’s been more than fifty years of war … so much blood has been spilled,” the pope said, referring to the country’s long-running conflict. He expressed hope the peace will be “guaranteed” and lasting.
Yet on the narrow victory in the U.K. for the decision to exit the European Union, the pope said he heard the final result only aboard the papal plane because when he had scanned an Italian newspaper earlier in the morning the outcome was still uncertain.
“This expressed the will of the people,” he said, meaning the vote.
“It demands of all of us a great responsibility” to promote “the good of the people of the United Kingdom … and the coexistence of all the peoples of Europe.”
The response may strike some as slightly surprising, given that both the Vatican corporately and Francis personally generally have been staunch supporters of greater European unity and perceived as backers of the European Union.
In a recent speech upon receipt of the Charlemagne Prize for contributions to European Union, for instance, Francis praised the vision of European states “united not by force but by free commitment to the common good and a definitive end to confrontation,” language that at the time was seen as a gentle rebuke to anti-EU campaigners.
For his opening act in Armenia Friday, however, it was another sort of unity that seemed foremost on the pope’s mind.
Upon his arrival in Armenia, the pope’s first appointment was with Catholicos Karekin II of the Armenian Apostolic Church, one of the Oriental churches within the Orthodox tradition. Unsurprisingly, the pope’s main theme was ecumenism, meaning the press for closer Christian unity.
“I thank the Lord for the journey that the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church have undertaken through sincere and fraternal dialogue for the sake of coming to share fully in the Eucharistic banquet,” the pope said.
The world, Francis said, “expects from Christians a witness of mutual esteem and fraternal cooperation capable of revealing to every conscience the power and truth of Christ’s resurrection.”
Closer and more cooperative ties among divided Christians, he said, “are like a radiant light in a dark night and a summons to experience even our differences in an attitude of charity and mutual understanding.”