Cardinal Grigor Petros XV Aghajanian – The First Armenian Cardinal Of The Roman Catholic Church
“History must tell how grateful Christian Armenia, the Catholic missions, the Holy See and the whole Church are to him” – Pope Paul VI, May 26, 1971.
Who is Cardinal Grigor Petros XV Aghajanian?
Ghazaros (the secular name of the cardinal) Aghajanian was the first Armenian cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, and who was rumored to have been considered twice as a candidate for election as Pope.
Ghazaros Aghajanian was born on September 18, 1895 in the city of Akhaltsikhe, in the Armenian region of Javakhk, which at that time was part of the Russian Empire (now the territory of modern Georgia).
In 1917 he was ordained a priest, receiving the name “Francis”.
After many years of service in the Catholic Church, in 1935 Aghajanian was consecrated a bishop, and two years later he was elected Patriarch-Catholicos of the Armenian Catholic Church and took the name “Gregory Petros XV”.
Aghajanian’s activity as a Patriarch was marked by tireless concern for the Armenian Catholic Church, he visited Armenians, dioceses and colonies in different countries, founded orphanages and schools, built churches and supported the publishing business of Armenian Catholics.
Aghajanian attracted the attention of the papal throne with his education (he spoke eight languages) and exemplary clergy behavior, and in 1946 he earned his red cardinal cap.
Pope Pius XII conferred on him the dignity of a cardinal and appointed him Chairman of the Commission for compiling the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. In almost two thousand years of the history of the Catholic Church, Aghajanian became the first Armenian to become a cardinal.
In 1958, Cardinal Aghajanian accepted the post of Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.
Despite the fact that information about papal conclaves remains closed, many sources indicate that Aghajanian’s candidacy was considered twice as a candidate (papabilis) for the papal chair – in 1958 and in 1963.
However, as you know, these were the most bitter years of the Cold War, and a clergyman who was not Italian could not be on the throne of St. Peter, especially having Armenian roots, “who knew the language of the Kremlin”, “Russian”, “who had family ties in the Land of Soviets and blood ties in the socialist camp.”
But, according to the Armenian Catholic Church website, Aghajanian was rumored to have been actually elected at 1963 conclave but declined to accept.
Aghajanian actively promoted the meetings of Pope Paul VI with the Catholicos of Cilicia Khoren I (1967) and the Catholicos of All Armenians Vazgen I (1970).
Cardinal Aghajanian died after a serious illness on May 16, 1971 in his native “Levonian” seminary in Rome. Among the many thousands of participants in the magnificent funeral ceremony were well-known political and spiritual figures, and of course, a large number of compatriots.
His ashes rest in the tomb of the chapel of St. Gregory the Illuminator in the “Levonian” seminary (Armenian Church of San Nicola da Tolentino agli Orti Sallustiani in Rome, not far from Piazza Barberini).