Francis, on the second day of his trip to Armenia, made an early morning stop at the Tzitzernakaberd, the "Genocide Memorial and Museum," a towering granite needle flanked by an eternal flame on a hillside overlooking the Armenian capital.
There, visibly moved, he took part in a prayer service along with President Serzh Sarksyan and leaders of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
"Here I pray, with pain in my heart, so that never again will there be tragedies like this, so that humanity does not forget and knows how to overcome evil with good," he wrote in the guest book in Italian.
On Friday night in a speech to the president, the government and diplomats, Francis departed from his prepared text to use the word "genocide," a description that infuriated Turkey when he said it a year ago.
As of Saturday morning there was no official reaction from Turkey, which last year recalled its ambassador to the Vatican after the pope used the 'genocide' term. The envoy was kept away for 10 months.
Turkey accepts many Christian Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War One, but contests the figures and denies the killings were systematically orchestrated and constitute a genocide. It also says many Muslim Turks perished at that time.
"There is no reason not to use this word in this case," Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters on Friday night. "The reality is clear and we never denied what the reality is."
At the Saturday morning ceremony, Francis chatted with descendants of Armenian orphans who were sheltered at the papal summer residence south of Rome at the start of the 20th century.
"May God grant the beloved Armenian people and the entire world peace and consolation. May God protect the memory of the Armenian people. Memory should not be diluted or forgotten. Memory is a source of peace and the future," he wrote in the guest book.
After the memorial service the pope flew to say a Mass in the provincial city of Gyumri, near the border with Turkey and within sight of Mount Ararat, where the Bible says Noah's Ark landed after the Great Flood.
(Reuters) Jun 25, 2016
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Sunday honored the 100th anniversary of the slaughter of Armenians by calling it "the first genocide of the 20th century," a politically explosive declaration that will certainly anger Turkey.
Francis, who has close ties to the Armenian community from his days in Argentina, defended his pronouncement by saying it was his duty to honor the memory of the innocent men, women, children, priests and bishops who were "senselessly" murdered by Ottoman Turks.
"Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it," he said at the start of a Mass Sunday in the Armenian Catholic rite in St. Peter's Basilica honoring the centenary.
Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by genocide scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century.
Turkey, however, refuses to call it a genocide and has insisted that the toll has been inflated, and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.
Turkey's embassy to the Holy See canceled a planned news conference for Sunday, presumably after learning that the pope would utter the word "genocide" over its objections.
Several European countries recognize the massacres as genocide, though Italy and the United States, for example, have avoided using the term officially given the importance they place on Turkey as an ally.
Francis is not the first pope to call the massacre a genocide. In his remarks, Francis cited a 2001 declaration signed by St. John Paul II and the Armenian church leader, Karenkin II, which called it as the first genocide of the 20th century.
Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, whose ties with Turkey and the Muslim world were initially strained, avoided the "g-word."
Francis said the Armenian killings were the first of three "massive and unprecedented" genocides that was followed by the Holocaust and Stalinism. He said others had followed, including in Cambodia, Rwanda, Burundi and Bosnia.
"It seems that the human family has refused to learn from its mistakes caused by the law of terror, so that today too there are those who attempt to eliminate others with the help of a few and with the complicit silence of others who simply stand by," he said.
Francis has frequently denounced the "complicit silence" of the world community in the face of the modern day slaughter of Christians and other religious minorities by Islamic extremists. And while he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio referred to the Armenian "genocide" on several occasions, including three separate citations in his 2010 book "On Heaven and Earth."
The Armenians have been campaigning for greater recognition of the genocide in the lead-up to the centenary, which will be formally marked on April 24. Sunday's Mass was concelebrated by the Armenian Catholic patriarch, Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni, and was attended by Armenian Orthodox church leaders as well as Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, who sat in a place of honor in the basilica.
Francis also honored the Armenian community at the start of the Mass by pronouncing a 10th-century Armenian mystic, St. Gregory of Narek, a doctor of the church. Only 35 people have been given the title, which is reserved for those whose writings have greatly served the universal church.