VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis is planning to visit Armenia in June, a year after he termed the Ottoman-era slaughter of Armenians a genocide.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, stressed Friday that the trip was still in its planning stages and that no itinerary had been set. But he said that the dates under study were for the second half of June.
Francis sparked a diplomatic incident with Turkey last year when he marked the 100th anniversary of the slaughter with an Armenian-rite Mass in St. Peter's Basilica and termed the massacre the "first genocide of the 20th Century."
Turkey immediately recalled its ambassador in protest and accused the pope of spreading hatred.
Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I. Turkey denies a genocide took place and insists those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.
Francis' proposed trip would come 15 years after St. John Paul II visited Armenia, a mostly Oriental Orthodox former Soviet state with a small Catholic minority.
It was during that 2001 trip that John Paul inked a joint declaration with the Armenian church leader Karenkin II calling the slaughter a genocide.
The plight of Armenians has long been close to the Vatican's heart given that Armenia is held up as the first Christian nation, dating from 301.
The Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches split in a theological dispute over the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ, arising from the fifth-century Council of Chalcedon. But the Armenian church has established friendly relations with both the Vatican and with Orthodox churches.