05/05/2019, 13.50
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Pope in Bulgaria: the land where Christians endured suffering pushes towards unity

During his meeting with Patriarch Neofit, Francis mentioned “The wounds [that] opened in the course of history between us Christians” and the persecution under communism. He also noted that “we can discover the joy of forgiveness and enjoy a foretaste of the day when, with God’s help, we can celebrate the Paschal mystery at one altar.”

Sofia (AsiaNews) – The second part of Pope Francis’s first morning in Bulgaria was marked by the meeting with Orthodox Patriarch Neofit, the visit to the cathedral and the recitation of the Regina Caeli.

Bulgaria, Francis said, is a country where Christians “endured suffering for the name of Jesus” under communism. Today, it "is a crossroads where various religious expressions encounter one another and engage in dialogue", a situation that fuels the quest for Christian unity.

In his address in the square outside Alexander Nevsky Cathedral before the recital of the Regina Caeli, the pontiff mentioned the memory of Pope John’s presence in Bulgaria before a crowd of about a thousand people, many of whom were personally greeted by the Pope. In this land, Mgr Roncalli “learned to esteem the traditions of the Eastern Church and built friendly relationships with the other religious confessions.”

Earlier, during his meeting with the patriarch, Francis noted “The wounds opened in the course of history between us Christians remain painful bruises on the Body of Christ which is the Church. Even today, their effects are tangible; we can touch them with our hands. Yet, perhaps together we can touch those wounds, confess that Jesus is risen, and proclaim him our Lord and our God. Perhaps together we can recognize our failings and immerse ourselves in his wounds of love. And in this way, we can discover the joy of forgiveness and enjoy a foretaste of the day when, with God’s help, we can celebrate the Paschal mystery at one altar.”

“How many Christians in this country endured suffering for the name of Jesus, particularly during the persecution of the last century! The ecumenism of blood! They spread a pleasing perfume over this “Land of Roses”. They passed through the thicket of trials in order to spread the fragrance of the Gospel. [. . .] I think in particular of the monastic tradition that from generation to generation has nurtured the faith of the people. I believe that these witnesses of Easter, brothers and sisters of different confessions united in heaven by divine charity, now look to us as seeds planted in the earth and meant to bear fruit.

“We too, as heirs of the faith of the saints, are called to be builders of communion and peacemakers in the name of Jesus. [. . .] In our relationships, too, Saints Cyril and Methodius remind us that, ‘far from being an obstacle to the Church’s unity, the diversity of customs and observances only adds to her beauty’ and that between East and West ‘various theological formulations are often to be considered complementary rather than conflicting’”.

The visit to the cathedral was highly ecumenical. The Pope paused in prayer before the "throne of Saints Cyril and Methodius" and began his address before the Marian prayer by saying “Christ is risen! With these words, Christians – Orthodox and Catholic – here in Bulgaria have from ancient times greeted one another in the Easter season”.

Bulgaria is an Orthodox country. Catholics number around 50,000 out of a population of seven million and relations are traditionally peaceful, as they were between 1925 and 1934 when Mgr Roncalli was posted in Sofia. “His diplomatic and pastoral experience in Bulgaria left so deep a mark on his pastor’s heart that he was led to promote in the Church the prospect of ecumenical dialogue, which received a notable impulse in the Second Vatican Council, which he himself wished to convene. In a certain sense, we can thank this land for the sage and inspired intuition of ‘good Pope John’.”

“In pursuing this ecumenical journey, I will shortly have the joy of greeting the representatives of various religious confessions of Bulgaria, which, while an Orthodox country, is a crossroads where various religious expressions encounter one another and engage in dialogue. The very welcome presence in this meeting of representatives of these different communities is 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” (Document on Human Fraternity, Abu Dhabi, 4 February 2019).

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