Pope John Paul II will visit Armenia in July, the government and the Armenian Apostolic Church announced Tuesday.
It will be the first visit by a pope to the Caucasus Mountain nation whose Orthodox church split from the Vatican more than 15 centuries ago.
The pope will visit several historic sites in Armenia, the joint announcement by Armenian Archbishop Karekin Nersesyan and Prime Minister Armen Darbinyan said.
The visit is scheduled to take place July 2 to 4.
The pontiff has launched a drive to improve relations between the branches of Christianity as the new millennium approaches.
Although the Armenian church split from the Vatican around AD 400, John Paul and the Armenian patriarch moved their churches a step closer in 1996 by agreeing on a theological point having to do with Christ’s nature.
The Armenian Church had held that Christ was only divine, not also human, as Roman Catholics hold. However, in a joint declaration, the pope and patriarch agreed that Christ has both a divine and human nature “in a union which is real, perfect, without confusion.”
A major obstacle to possible unity, however, is the Armenian Church’s rejection of the ultimate authority of the pontiff.