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The Armenian Catholic Church

The Latin Crusaders established close contacts with the Armenian Apostolic Church in the 12th century when they passed through the Armenian kingdom in Cilicia on their way to the Holy Land. An alliance between the Crusaders and the Armenian King contributed to the establishment of a union between the two churches in Cilicia in 1198. This union, which was not accepted by Armenians outside Cilicia, ended with the conquest of the Armenian kingdom by the Tatars in 1375.

A decree of reunion with the Armenian Apostolic Church, Exultate Deo, was published at the Council of Florence on November 22, 1439. Although it had no immediate results, the document provided the doctrinal basis for the establishment of an Armenian Catholic church much later.

Catholic missionary activity among the Armenians had begun early, led initially by the Friars of Union, a now-defunct Armenian community related to the Dominicans, founded in 1320. With the passage of time, scattered but growing Armenian Catholic communities began to ask for a proper ecclesial structure and their own patriarch. In 1742 Pope Benedict XIV confirmed a former Armenian Apostolic bishop, Abraham Ardzivian (1679-1749), as Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians, based in Lebanon, and with religious authority over the Armenian Catholics in the southern provinces of the Ottoman Empire. In the north, they continued to be under the spiritual care of the Latin Vicar Apostolic in Constantinople. The new patriarch took the name Abraham Pierre I, and all his successors have likewise taken the name Pierre in their ecclesiastical title.

The Ottoman millet system, which provided for the administrative autonomy of minorities under the direction of their religious leaders, had placed all Armenian Catholics under the civil jurisdiction of the Armenian Apostolic Patriarch in Constantinople. This resulted in serious difficulties and even persecution of Armenian Catholics until 1829 when, under French pressure, the Ottoman government gave them the right to be organized civilly as a separate millet, with an Archbishop of their own in Constantinople. In 1846 he was vested with civil authority as well. The anomaly of having an Archbishop with both civil and religious authority in the Ottoman capital and an exclusively spiritual Patriarch in Lebanon was resolved in 1867 when Pope Pius IX united the two sees and moved the patriarchal residence to Constantinople.

The vicious persecution of Armenians in Turkey at the end of World War I decimated the Armenian Catholic community in that country: seven bishops, 130 priests, 47 nuns and as many as 100,000 faithful died. Since the community in Turkey had been drastically reduced in size, an Armenian Catholic synod in Rome in 1928 decided to transfer the Patriarchate back to Lebanon (Beirut), and to make Constantinople (now Istanbul) an Archdiocese.

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Tags: Christianity Armenian Catholic Church