By Vatican News
Geographically, Bulgaria’s capital city of Sofia lies midway between the Black Sea to the east and the Adriatic Sea to the west. In his first public speech in the country, Pope Francis called Bulgaria “a bridge between East and West, capable of favouring encounter between the different cultures, ethnic groups, civilizations and religions that for centuries have lived here in peace”.
Addressing the President, Authorities, and the Diplomatic Corps in Atanas Burov Square shortly after his arrival, the Pope praised Bulgaria, saying that here, “diversity, combined with respect for distinctive identities, is viewed as an opportunity, a source of enrichment, and not as a source of conflict”.
Remembering Saints Cyril and Methodius
Pope Francis recalled the visit of Saint John Paul II to Bulgaria in May 2002 and spoke of how the future Saint John XXIII served as Apostolic Delegate in Sofia for ten years. The Pope also remembered Cyril and Methodius, the two Saints “who evangelized the Slavic peoples”, and are co-patrons of Europe. The Pope called them “an inspiration for fruitful dialogue, harmony and fraternal encounter between Churches, States and peoples”.
A particular moment of history
Pope Francis went on to describe “this particular moment of history” in Bulgaria, “thirty years after the end of the totalitarian regime” that imprisoned the country’s “liberty and initiatives”. He spoke of the effects of emigration in recent decades that has seen over two million Bulgarians leave their country in search of employment. This, combined with what the Pope called the “demographic winter” of falling birth rates, “has led to the depopulation and abandonment of many villages and cities”.
Encouragement and invitation
Pope Francis encouraged Bulgaria’s leaders to continue creating conditions that will allow young people “to invest their youthful energies and plan their future”, knowing they can lead “a dignified life” in their own homeland. The Pope also respectfully invited all Bulgarians, “who are familiar with the drama of emigration”, not close their eyes, hearts or hands, “to those who knock at your door”.
During his speech, Pope Francis suggested we should “profit from the hospitality of the Bulgarian people” so that every religion can contribute to the growth of a culture of “respect for the human person”, and “rejecting every form of violence and coercion”. In this way, said the Pope, those who seek “to manipulate and exploit religion will be defeated”.