PM Borissov: "In Pope Francis, Bulgaria Has a Great Friend"
May 7 (BTA) - "In the person of Pope Francis, we have a great friend of Bulgaria," Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov told the media at Sofia International Airport on Tuesday morning minutes after the pontiff boarded his flight that flew him to Skopje, North Macedonia following a three-day apostolic journey to this country. The plane took off shortly after 8:30 a.m. local time.
"I was very pleased because you are a robust people. Thank you for aspiring to maintain good relations with the neighbouring countries, to build peace and bridges," the Pope told the PM when they held a brief conversation before the guest's departure.
Borissov thanked His Holiness for visiting Bulgaria and stressed that this country will continue to work for peace in the region. "I am doing it out of conviction. 'A good neighbour is better than a relative,' we say in Bulgaria. I saw that the people enjoyed his stay," the Prime Minister said, quoted by the Government Information Service.
"Continue to build peace, sow good seeds," were the pontiff's final remarks to Borissov. He said that, on parting, Francis had given his blessing to the building of bridges and motorways in the Balkans "because this is exceedingly important".
The head of government described the papal visit as "good publicity for Bulgaria". "All the media covered his messages, his appeals for peace. The [contribution] of our [Council of the] European [Union] Presidency to drawing the Western Balkans closer to the EU proved an important topic for the world, too," he added.
Shortly after take-off, Pope Francis sent the following cable to Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, reported by the Vatican Press Office: "As I depart from Bulgaria to continue my Apostolic Journey to North Macedonia, I renew my deep appreciation to YourExcellency, the Government and the people of Bulgaria for your warm welcome and generous hospitality. Offering the assurance of my prayers for peace and harmony in the nation, I invoke upon all of you abundant divine blessings."
Approached for comment on the pontiff's call for greater tolerance to asylum seekers, Borissov said: "We have always been tolerant, for centuries on end. I have always drawn a clear distinction between the people fleeing wars, whom we are bound to help, and economic migrants and those who want to enter the country illegally and break the law," he pointed out, adding: "We are against those who try to cross the border illegally, at night, violating the law, which is why we guard our border very strictly."
Regarding the refusal of the leaders of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church to attend the Holy Masses that the Pope celebrated during his visit and to share in his prayer for peace in Sofia, the Prime Minister was noncommittal: "I don't meddle in the things that are God's. The Lord Jesus Christ has appointed both the Pope and the Patriarch at His own discretion. I'd rather not comment on this."
During the first day of his apostolic journey to Bulgaria (the 29th during his pontificate), Pope Francis conferred with Borissov and Radev, met with civil society and the diplomatic corps, visited Bulgarian Patriarch Neophyte and metropolitans at the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, went to the St Alexander Nevsky Patriarchal Cathedral for a private prayer before the altar of Sts Cyril and Methodius, addressed a Regina
Coeli to the Blessed Virgin Mary and celebrated a Holy Mass. On Monday, the guest paid a private visit to the Vrazhdebna Refugee Centre and proceeded to the south central Town of Rakovski, where he administered First Communions to 242 children at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church and met with the Catholic community at theSt Michael the Archangel Church. Back in Sofia, the Head
of the Roman Catholic Church presided at a Prayer for Peace together with leaders of six other religious denominations. The apostolic journey was mottoed "Pacem in Terris" ("Peace on