Pope John Paul II and the spiritual leader of Armenia's Catholics, Karekin II, issued a joint statement Friday condemning the Armenian genocide at the beginning of the 20th century.
"The Armenian genocide has been a prelude to the horrors which followed: the two world wars, innumerable regional conflicts and deliberately organized campaigns of extermination that have ended the lives of millions of believers," they said after a communal ecumenical service in Saint Peter's basilica.
During the service, the pope handed over to Karekin the relics of Saint Gregory, the first leader of the Armenian Catholic church. The relics have been kept in the southern Italian city of Naples for over 500 years.
In the statement, the spiritual leaders stressed their theological, liturgical and canonical traditions were similar rather than divergent.
The pope's recognition of the Armenian genocide follows the approval on Wednesday by the French senate of a bill effectively acknowledging the claim that 1.5 million Armenians were killed and another 500,000 driven from their homes during events in the Ottoman Empire eight decades ago.
Turkey disputes the claim and says that a much smaller number were killed in what was a revolt against the authorities.
Two weeks ago, a similar draft resolution was pulled from the US House of Representatives after US President Bill Clinton intervened, citing security concerns.
On Thursday, Karekin invited the pope to Armenia to attend next year's celebration of the 1700th anniversary of the country's conversion to Catholicism in 301 AD -- VATICAN CITY (AFP)
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