Pope Francis Arrives in Bulgaria
101 POPE FRANCIS - BULGARIA - VISIT removed "illegally" in 9th pa
Sofia, May 5 (BTA) - Pope Francis arrived Sunday on an apostolic journey to Bulgaria at the invitation of the Bulgarian authorities and the Interritual Bishops' Conference of Bulgaria. He came with a delegation of 35 of the highest representatives of the Holy See.
He was met at the government terminal of Sofia Airport by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov. The Prime Minister thanked him for accepting to visit Bulgaria. The Pope's first words were "I truly pray for peace."
After that the two had a one-on-one meeting in the VIP lounge of the airport followed by a public exchange of gifts: an embroidered icon of Ss. Cyril and Methodius, an omophorion, which is a vestment traditionally used by bishops, and an eternal rose and Bulgarian yoghurt for the Pope, and replicas of pontifical medals for the Prime Minister.
From the airport Pope Francis headed for the President's Office where he was met with an official ceremony by President Rumen Radev. Following a private meeting and exchange of gifts, the Pontiff and the President made statements before an audience of officials, diplomats and NGO representatives.
The President underscored in his remarks the long Christian history of the Bulgarian nation and recalled key episodes. "We know from experience that peace is long when humanism and tolerance among the religions, ethnicities and nations prevail," said he. He pointed out that an Eastern Orthodox cathedral, a Catholic cathedral, a mosque and a synagogue are built very close to one another in the very heart of Sofia.
Radev said that the return of hatred and xenophobia to Europe brings thoughts of the historical mission of the Holy Brothers Cyril and Methodius, who fought for the right of all people to praise God in their language. "The essence of their lesson is that language and cultural differences are no obstacle for peoples to live in peace and share the same values," said the President.
The President also said in his welcome address: "Your visit is one of the most significant events in our new history. It is all the more important because we share common concerns: for peace and for the fate of millions of people."
"Your visit is a proof of your love for the Bulgarian people and your belief in Bulgaria's role for building a more peaceful and just world," said the President.
In what was his first public address, the Pope focused on Bulgaria's role as a bridge between East and West, North and South. He praised Bulgaria for its respect for diversity. He spoke about the demographic challenges facing this country. He said Bulgaria is experiencing the consequences of the exodus of millions of its people who have left their home country in search of better life. At the same time, Bulgaria is faced with people who try to cross into its territory as they flee wars and conflicts. "I encourage you to make all efforts to create conditions to keep young people here and have a worthy life in their home country," said the Pope. "At the same time, don't close your eyes to those who knock on your door," he added.
He reiterated his belief that the true religious doctrines teach peace, fraternity, peaceful coexistence and knowing each other.
The Pope said his visit pays homage to the Bulgaria visit of St. John Paul II in May 2002 and the Bulgarian chapter in the career of the Apostolic Delegate to Bulgaria in 1931-1948, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, who later became Pope John XXIII.
This is the 29th apostolic journey of Pope Francis after he headed the Roman Catholic Church in 2013.
The Pontiff will be in Bulgaria until May 6 when he will leave on a visit to Republic of North Macedonia. He is accompanied by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri and Cardinal Kurt Koch. MORE/