Gregorio Pietro Agagianian

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His Eminence
Gregorio Pietro XV Agagianian
Patriarch emeritus of Cilicia; Cardinal
Card. Gregorio Pietro Agagianian.jpg
Agagianian in 1965
See Armenian Catholic Patriarchate of Cilicia
Appointed 13 December 1937
Term ended 25 August 1962
Predecessor Avedis Bédros XIV Arpiarian
Successor Ignatius Bedros XVI Batanian
Other posts Cardinal-Bishop of Albano
Ordination 23 December 1917
Consecration 21 July 1935
by Bartolomeo Cattaneo
Created Cardinal 18 February 1946
by Pope Pius XII
Rank Cardinal-Priest (1946-1970)
Cardinal-Bishop (1970-1971)
Personal details
Birth name Ghazaros Aghajanian (baptismal name)
Born (1895-09-18)18 September 1895
Akhaltsikhe, Russian Empire (present-day Georgia)
Died 16 May 1971(1971-05-16) (aged 75)
Nationality Armenian (Lebanese and Vatican citizenship, Russian Empire subject by birth)[a]
Denomination Armenian Catholic
Residence Rome, Beirut[b]
Previous post
Motto Iustitia et Pax
Styles of
Grégoire-Pierre Agagianian
External Ornaments of a Cardinal Bishop.svg
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal
See Cilicia

Gregorio Pietro XV Agagianian (anglicized: Gregory Peter; French: Grégoire-Pierre; Western Armenian: Գրիգոր Պետրոս ԺԵ. Աղաճանեան, Krikor Bedros XV Aghajanian; 18 September 1895 – 16 May 1971) was an Armenian Catholic Cardinal. He was the head of the Armenian Catholic Church (as Armenian Catholic Patriarch of Cilicia) from 1937 to 1962.

Agagianian was elevated to the cardinalate in 1946 by Pope Pius XII. Aghajanian was Prefect of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith in the Roman Curia from 1958 to 1970. A scholar, linguist and an authority on the Soviet Union, Agagianian was twice considered papabile, during the conclaves of 1958 and 1963.

Early life and priesthood[edit]

Ghazaros Aghajanian[c] (classical Armenian: Ղազարոս Աղաճանեան) was born in Akhaltsikhe, in present-day Georgia, then part of the Russian Empire. Around 60% of city's 15,000 inhabitants were Armenians at the time.[3] His family was part of the Catholic minority of Javakhk Armenians.[2] His ancestors came from Erzurum in the aftermath of a Russo-Turkish War. Fleeing Ottoman persecution, they sought refuge in the Russian Caucasus. He lost his father at an early age.[4]

He attended the Russian-language Tiflis Seminary and then the Pontifical Urban University in Rome.[5] He was ordained priest in Rome on December 23, 1917.[6][7] Despite the upheaval bought by the Russian Revolution, he thereafter served as a parish priest in Tiflis (Tbilisi) until 1921 when Georgia was invaded by the Red Army. He left for Rome and did not see his family members until 1962, when, "at the personal intervention of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, his sister Elisaveta was allowed to travel to see him in Rome."[2][5] "When the Iron Curtain fell on the Caucasian Russia, his mother, Isguhi Barakgian, was shut in." He only knew that she was still alive in 1953.[8]

In 1921, Agagianian became a faculty member and vice-rector of the Pontifical Armenian College (Pontificio Collegio Armeno) in Rome. He later served as rector of the college from 1932 to 1937. He was also a faculty member of the Pontifical Urban University from 1922 to 1932.[2][5][6]

Armenian Catholic Patriarch[edit]

Agagianian was appointed titular bishop of Comana di Armenia on July 11, 1935 and was ordained bishop on July 21, 1935 at the San Nicola da Tolentino Church in Rome. His episcopal motto was Iustitia et Pax ("Justice and Peace").[2][7]

Agagianian was elected Patriarch of Cilicia by the synod of Armenian Catholic bishops on November 30, 1937. He thus became the head of the Armenian Catholic Church. The election received papal conformation on December 13, 1937.[5][7] He took the name Gregory Peter (French: Grégoire-Pierre XV, Armenian: Krikor-Bedros XV).[2] He became the 15th patriarch of the world's 100,000 Armenian Catholics.[9]

According to Rouben Paul Adalian, following the sizable losses in the Armenian Genocide, the Armenian Catholic Church regained its stature in the Armenian diaspora under the "astute management" of Agagianian.[10] He resigned the pastoral governance of the Armenian patriarchate on August 25, 1962[7] to focus on his duties at Rome.[5][11]


Agagianan was made Cardinal on February 18, 1946 by Pope Pius XII. He was appointed Cardinal-Priest of San Bartolomeo all'Isola on February 22, 1946.[2][7]

Agagianian was appointed Pro-Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (now called the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples) on June 18, 1958 and Prefect on July 18, 1960.[7] As such he supervised the training of Catholic missionaries all over the world.[12] According to Lentz, Agagianian was "largely responsible for liberalizing the church's policies in developing nations."[6] He traveled extensively to the missionary areas for which he was responsible.[13] He served in that position for more than a decade, until October 19, 1970.[2]

On October 22, 1970 he was appointed Cardinal-Bishop with title to the Suburbicarian Diocese of Albano.[2][7][d]


Agagianian participated in the papal conclaves of 1958 and 1963,[2] during which his name was discussed as a papal candidate (i.e. papabile).[e][16] According to J. Peter Pham, Agagianian was considered a "serious (albeit unwilling) candidate" for the papacy in both conclaves.[5] Agagianian was the "first non-Italian in centuries to be considered a serious candidate for the papacy."[15] The New York Times wrote upon his death that "Twice in the last 13 years, Cardinal Agagianian was considered the leading candidate for the Papacy if a non-Italian were to be elected to the highest post in the Roman Catholic Church."[17]

Armenian historian Ara Sanjian wrote in 1995 that Agagianian's name was "discussed seriously as a possible candidate in the papal elections" of 1958 and 1963 and added that these "persistent rumours" cannot be confirmed officially because of Catholic traditions of absolute secrecy on matters relating to papal elections.[4]

1958 conclave[edit]

According to Greg Tobin and Robert J. Wister, Agagianian was one of the favorites in the 1958 conclave, "known to be close" to Pope Pius XII.[18] His candidacy was widely discussed.[19] Even before the death of Pope Pius XII, The Milwaukee Sentinel wrote that "Some of the most authoritative voices of Vatican affairs believe today that [...] Agagianian [...] is now without question the leading candidate to succeed Pope Pius XII."[20] On October 9, the day Pope Pius died, The Milwaukee Sentinel wrote that he is "considered by very responsible Vatican circles as the foremost choice" to succeed Pope Pius.[21] He was also popular amongst believers. Chicago Tribune wrote on October 25, 1958: "Cheering Roman crowds 'picked' the next pope [...] He is silver bearded Cardinal Agagianian, the Armenian patriarch [...] The crowds shouted 'Long live the new pope' when Agagianian drove to a meeting with the 51 other cardinals." The newspaper added, "Despite the crowds' cheers for Agagianian, the cardinals are expected to try first to agree on an Italian cardinal."[22]

The election was seen as a struggle between Italian Angelo Roncalli (who was eventually elected and became Pope John XXIII) and non-Italian Agagianian.[f] Agagianian reportedly came in second.[g] Three months after the conclave, Roncalli revealed that his name and that of Agagianian "went up and down like two chickpeas in boiling water" during the conclave.[26] Armenian-American journalist Tom Vartabedian suggests that it is possible that Agagianian might have been elected but declined the post.[27]

1963 conclave[edit]

According to John Whooley, "On the death of John XXIII, there was much expectation that Agagianian would be elected in his stead." In the 1963 conclave Agagianian was considered "a strong contender, most 'papabile', and his figure well-known, even beyond the Catholic world."[28] According to the Armenian Catholic Church website, Agagianian was rumored to have been actually elected at this conclave but declined to accept.[29]

According to speculations by Italian journalists Andrea Tornielli (1993)[4] and Giovanni Bensi (2013)[30] Italian intelligence services were involved in preventing Agagianian from being elected pope in 1963. They maintain that SIFAR (Servizio informazioni forze armate) mounted a smear campaign against Agagianian prior to the conclave by "circulating a report that his 70-year old sister, Elizabeta Papikova, had ties to the KGB, the Soviet security service, and had made contact with the Soviet embassy during her visit to Rome in 1962 to meet her brother."[4]


Thomas Rausch described him as "hardly a strict traditionalist."[31] According to Ralph M. Wiltgen, he was "regarded by the liberals as the most acceptable of the Curial cardinals" in the Second Vatican Council.[32] In 1963 Life magazine called him "liberal" and "cosmopolitan"[12] and "a moderate who has traveled widely in his capacity as head of all the Church's missionary activity."[33] He was described as the Catholic Church's "topmost champion of the unity of the Christian churches under the Pope of Rome as leader of 'the' church."[21]

Second Vatican Council[edit]

Agagianian attended the Second Vatican Council, which took place from 1962 to 1965, and sat on its Board of Presidency.[2] He had a special role in the preparation of the Constitutions of the Catholic Church in the modern world: Ad gentes and Gaudium et spes.[34] He was appointed by Pope Paul VI as one of the four moderators to help the Council become more efficient,"[28] along with Leo Joseph Suenens (Belgium), Julius Döpfner (Germany), Giacomo Lercaro (Italy).[35] They had the task of "steering the debates."[36] Agagianian was the only one of these four from the Curia,[36] and represented the Eastern Catholic Churches.[31]

On the Soviet Union[edit]

During his lifetime Agagianian was considered the Catholic Church's leading expert on communism and the Soviet Union.[6][37] In January 1958 UK Ambassador to the Holy See Marcus Cheke wrote a diplomatic report addressed to Edward Michael Rose, the Head of the Levant Department at the British Foreign Office, in which Cheke describes a meeting he had with Cardinal Agagianian. Cheke wrote that "On the whole, I got the impression that the Cardinal, like certain members of the Vatican Secretariat of State, believes that the best thing for the Western powers to do is to hang on, avoid war (and the more strongly armed and united they are, the less danger there is of Russia venturing on a war) and to wait for a transformation inside Russia, which he thinks will happen sooner or later."[4]

He was quoted in 1958 as saying: "The time is to come when religion will be honored once again in Russian lands. Bolshevism [he stressed Bolshevism, not the Socialist revolution of October, 1917] and the religious feelings of the Soviet peoples will emerge to the light of the sun. This is because the first victims of the Bolshevist regime today are the Soviet peoples themselves."[21]


Agagianian died of cancer in Rome on May 16, 1971. He was buried in Rome's San Nicola da Tolentino Armenian church.[2] There are two portraits of Agagianian done by Armenian artist Ariel Agemian K.S.G. They can be viewed on the [1]


Upon his death, The New York Times wrote that "Despite his failure to win election from the Sacred College of Cardinals, [Agagianian] nevertheless made a major impact on the development of the [Catholic] church and its role in the newly developing nations."[17] Agagianian has been called "the most celebrated Armenian Catholic in history."[27] He was the second Armenian Catholic churchman ever to be made cardinal, after Andon Bedros IX Hassoun in 1880.[4]

Despite being Armenian, he was "Romanized"[23] as he spent most of his adult life in Rome. He "spoke with a Roman accent."[15] Agagianian was considered to have been bi-ritual as he used both the Armenian and Latin rites.[19] Pope Pius XII, who had a "great interest in the Eastern churches," called on Agagianian to celebrate a pontifical Mass in the Armenian rite in the Sistine Chapel on March 12, 1946.[38]

Agagianian was a polyglot and renowned linguist.[1][6] He spoke fluent Armenian (his mother language),[1] Russian, Italian, French, English, Latin and learned German, Spanish, classical Greek, Arabic.[17] He also had "a working knowledge of the Slavic languages and [could] speak most of the languages of the Middle and Far East."[21] He was described as the College of Cardinals' "top linguist" in 1953.[8]

Honors and awards[edit]


  1. ^ "He was born a Russian subject [...] He now carries a Lebanese passport and will henceforth be a citizen of the Vatican."[1]
  2. ^ "he has been dividing his time between Beirut, Rome and visits to Armenian communities in many parts of the world"[1]
  3. ^ His first name is sometimes transliterated in the Latin script as Gazaros. According to Salvador Miranda, the English and French equivalents of his first name is Lazarus and Lazare respectively.[2]
  4. ^ On February 11, 1965 Pope Paul VI decreed in his motu propio Ad Purpuratorum Patrum that Eastern Patriarchs who are elevated to the College of Cardinals would be made cardinal bishops, ranked after the suburbicarian cardinal-bishops, but not part of the Roman clergy and would not be assigned any Roman church or deaconry, their patriarchal see instead becoming their cardinalatial see.[14] However, because Cardinal Agagianian had already resigned from the Armenian Catholic patriarchiate, he remained a Cardinal-Priest with title to his titular church San Bartolomeo all'Isola and was not automatically elevated to the order of Cardinal-Bishops. He remained a Cardinal-Priest until his appointment as the Cardinal-Bishop of Albano. He is the most recent patriarch or former patriarch from an Eastern Catholic Church who became Cardinal-Bishop with title to a suburbicarian see - all other Eastern Catholic patriarchs who have been cardinals since 1965 have been made cardinal-bishops but not assigned to any suburbicarian see.
  5. ^ "He was mentioned as a possibility in the 1958 conclave which elected John XXIII and again in the 1963 conclave which elected the present pope."[15]
  6. ^ "The conclave had found itself choosing between the Armenian but Romanized Agagianian and the patriarch of Venice; it had chosen the latter: another Italian, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli..."[23] "The contest finally resolved itself, as so many people had predicted, into a straight-out issue between Italian Roncalli and non-Italian Agagianian."[24]
  7. ^ "The runner-up was the Armenian cardinal Agagianian."[25] The Sydney Morning Herald wrote "The three other contenders named by observers in their order of polling: •Cardinal Agagianian..."[24]
  1. ^ a b c d "Marked for Greatness: Gregory Peter XV Cardinal Agagianian". The New York Times. 19 June 1958. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church: AGAGIANIAN, Grégoire-Pierre XV". Florida International University. 
  3. ^ "Первая всеобщая перепись населения Российской Империи 1897 г. Распределение населения по родному языку и уездам Российской Империи кроме губерний Европейской России. Ахалцихский уезд - г. Ахалцих". Demoscope Weekly (in Russian). 
    "Ахалцихский уезд (1897 г.)" (in Russian). ethno-kavkaz. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Sanjian, Ara (21 January 2015). "An Armenian As Pope? - A British Diplomatic Report on Cardinal Agagianian, 1958". Horizon Weekly.  (originally published in Window Quarterly, Volume V, No. 3 & 4, 1995; pp 11-13) view online
  5. ^ a b c d e f Pham, John-Peter (2004). "Agagianian, Grégoire-Pierre XV". Heirs of the Fisherman: Behind the Scenes of Papal Death and Succession. Oxford University Press. p. 231–232. ISBN 9780195346350. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Lentz, Harris M. III (2009). "Agagianian, Gregory Peter XV". Popes and Cardinals of the 20th Century: A Biographical Dictionary. McFarland. p. 7. ISBN 9781476621555. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g "Grégoire-Pierre XV (François) Cardinal Agagianian †". 
  8. ^ a b "Will the next Pope be a Russian?". The Milwaukee Sentinel. 25 April 1953. 
  9. ^ "Cardinal Agagianian Succumbs". Times-News. via UPI. 15 May 1971. 
  10. ^ Adalian, Rouben Paul (2010). Historical Dictionary of Armenia. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. p. 232. ISBN 978-0-8108-7450-3. 
  11. ^ "Armenian Patriarch Resigns". The New York Times. via AP. 26 August 1962. 
  12. ^ a b "The 'Papabili': One May Become Pope--Great Princes of the Church". Life: 29–33. 14 June 1963. The Curia's foremost authority on Russia is liberal, cosmopolitan Gregory Cardinal Agagianian, master of eight languages. As prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, he supervises the training of Catholic missionaries all over the world. 
  13. ^ Whooley 2004, p. 422.
  14. ^ "Ad Purpuratorum Patrum". The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. Retrieved 2013-05-27. 
  15. ^ a b c "Cardinal Agagianian Dies at 75". Reading Eagle. via UPI. 17 May 1971. 
  16. ^ Conclave A.D. 1963 - Election of Pope Paul VI on YouTube. Accessed 19 October 2013
  17. ^ a b c "Cardinal Agagianian Is Dead; Scholarly Mission Leader, 75". The New York Times. via Reuters. 17 May 1971. 
  18. ^ Tobin, Greg; Wister, Robert J. (2009). Selecting the Pope: Uncovering the Mysteries of Papal Elections. Sterling Publishing Company. p. 40. ISBN 9781402729546. The favorites going in included the grandly named Cardinal Gregory Peter XV Agagianian, patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians, a bearded sixty-three-year-old known to be close to Pius XII. 
  19. ^ a b Guruge, Anura (2010). The Next Pope. p. 26. ISBN 9780615353722. Armenian cardinal, Grégoire-Pierre XV Agagianian (1895-1971), who was a much talked about papabili in 1958, is also considered to have been bi-ritual. 
  20. ^ Casserly, John J. (27 June 1958). "Cardinal Agagianian---Next Pope?". The Milwaukee Sentinel. 
  21. ^ a b c d Casserly, John J. (9 October 1958). "Russian-born Cardinal Believed Top Choice as Pius XII Successor". The Milwaukee Sentinel. 
  22. ^ Rue, Larry (28 October 1958). "Seal 2 Doors of Cardinals' Voting Area". Chicago Tribune. 
  23. ^ a b Whooley 2004, p. 431.
  24. ^ a b "Papal Battle Voting Close". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2 November 1958. 
  25. ^ Faggioli, Massimo (2014). John XXIII: The Medicine of Mercy. Liturgical Press. pp. 106–107. ISBN 9780814649763. 
  26. ^ Hebblethwaite, Peter (2005). John XXIII: Pope of the Century. A & C Black. p. 141. ISBN 9780860123873. 
  27. ^ a b Vartabedian, Tom (6 February 2012). "The Armenian Cardinal and His Servant". Armenian Weekly. 
  28. ^ a b Whooley 2004, p. 423.
  29. ^ "Biography of Gregory Petros XV Agagianian". Armenian Catholic Church. 
  30. ^ Bensi, Giovanni (20 March 2013). "Le due chance perdute del papa armeno". East Journal (in Italian). ; also published in Russian: Bensi, Giovanni (20 March 2013). "Операция "Конклав" (Operation "Conclave")". Nezavisimaya Gazeta (in Russian). 
  31. ^ a b Rausch, Thomas P. (2016). "Roman Catholicism since 1800". In Sanneh, Lamin; McClymond, Michael. The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to World Christianity. John Wiley & Sons. p. 610. ISBN 9781118556047. 
  32. ^ Wiltgen, Ralph M. (1991). The Inside Story of Vatican II: A Firsthand Account of the Council's Inner Workings. TAN Books. ISBN 9781618906397. 
  33. ^ Kaiser, Robert B. (21 June 1963). "And Now the Search Begins for the New Pope". Life: 57. There is Gregory Peter Agagianian, 67, a bearded Armenian cardinal who has been a Roman by adoption since he left his home town when he was 11 year old. Agagianian is a moderate who has traveled widely in his capacity as head of all the Church's missionary activity. However, he holds no sympathy for the Church's revisionist theologians and biblical scholars, and this may prevent the more moderate cardinals from voting for him. 
  34. ^ Kalinichenko, E. V. (21 March 2008). "Агаджанян (Agadzhanyan)". Orthodox Encyclopedia (in Russian). Russian Orthodox Church. Участвовал в подготовке и проведении Ватиканского II Собора, на к-ром был одним из четырех модераторов (председатель сессии), ему принадлежит особая роль в подготовке Конституции о Церкви в совр. мире «Gaudium et spes» (Радость и надежда) и декрета о миссионерской деятельности «Ad gentes divinitus» (Народам по Промыслу Божию). 
  35. ^ Gaillardetz, Richard (2006). The Church in the Making: Lumen Gentium, Christus Dominus, Orientalium Ecclesiarum. Paulist Press. pp. 17–18. ISBN 9780809142767. 
  36. ^ a b Nolan, Ann Michele (2006). A Privileged Moment: Dialogue in the Language of the Second Vatican Council, 1962-1965. Peter Lang. p. 83. ISBN 9783039109845. 
  37. ^ "Cardinal Dies; Was Authority on Communism". The Day. via AP. 17 May 1971. 
  38. ^ Riccards, Michael P. (2012). Faith and Leadership: The Papacy and the Roman Catholic Church. Lexington Books. p. 429. ISBN 9780739171325. 
  39. ^ "The Patriarch of Cilicia". The Heights. Boston College. XXXIII (11). 11 January 1952. 
  40. ^ "Honorary Degrees Awarded by Boston College 1952-1998" (PDF). p. 102. 
  41. ^ "Cardinal Agagianian Accepts Degree". 885. Newton College of the Sacred Heart. VIII (6). 1 June 1960. 
  42. ^ "AGAGIANIAN S.Em. il Cardinale Gregorio Pietro". (in Italian). President of Italy. Archived from the original on 2016-08-05. 
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Avedis Bedros XIV Arpiarian
Patriarch Catholicos of Cilicia
30 November 1937 – 25 August 1962
Succeeded by
Ignatius Bedros XVI Batanian
Preceded by
Pietro Fumasoni Biondi
Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
18 June 1958 – 19 October 1970
Succeeded by
Agnelo Rossi