By Vatican News
Pope Saint John XXIII lived in Bulgaria for nearly ten years, from 1925 until 1934, while serving as Apostolic Delegate. Locally, they still call him “the Bulgarian Saint”.
While he was in Sofia, he developed a special veneration for Our Lady of Nessebar, whose name means “Gate of Heaven”. He continued to venerate her until the day he died.
Remembering “Good Pope John”
On Sunday, Pope Francis prayed the Regina Coeli before the icon of Our Lady of Nessebar, in Saint Aleksander Nevsky Square, and recalled his predecessor.
It was here, in Bulgaria, said Pope Francis, that the future John XXIII “learned to esteem the traditions of the Eastern Church”.
His diplomatic and pastoral experience here left “so deep a mark on his pastor’s heart” that he set out to promote the ecumenical dialogue “which received such a notable impulse during the Second Vatican Council”. In a sense, said Pope Francis, “we can thank this land for the sage and inspired intuition of “Good Pope John”.
Bulgaria as a crossroads
Bulgaria is an Orthodox country where Catholics make up about 0.5 percent out of a population of around 7 million people. Still, Pope Francis described Bulgaria as a “crossroads where various religious expressions encounter one another and engage in dialogue”.
The fact he would be meeting with representatives of different communities, he said, was “a sign of the desire of all to pursue the increasingly necessary journey towards “the culture of dialogue as a path; mutual cooperation as the code of conduct; reciprocal understanding as the method and standard”.
The Pope’s prayer for Bulgaria
Before praying the Regina Coeli, the Pope reminded those present that “Christ is alive, and He wants you to be alive! He is with you and He never abandons you”.
“When you feel you are growing old out of sorrow, resentment or fear, doubt or failure, He will always be there to restore your strength and your hope”.
Pope Francis final prayer was that Bulgaria might always be “a land of encounter. A land in which, transcending all cultural religious and ethnic differences, you can continue to acknowledge and esteem each other as children of the one heavenly Father”.