07 Editorial - Bulgaria—Bridge between East and West

posted May 16, 2019, 3:30 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated May 16, 2019, 3:31 AM ]
Pope Francis, who arrived in Bulgaria's capital city of Sofia on May 5, 2019, described Bulgaria as "a bridge between East and West, capable of favouring encounter between the different cultures, ethnic groups, civilisations and religions that for centuries have lived here in peace." The Pope praised them for being a people of diversity, combined with respect for distinctive identities - a model of enrichment, not a source of conflict."

Recalling the visit of Saint John Paul II to Bulgaria in May 2002, the Holy Father spoke of how the future Saint John XXIII served as Apostolic Delegate in Sofia for ten years. He also remembered Cyril and Methodius—the two Saints "who evangelised the Slavic peoples", and were co-patrons of Europe. The Holy Father called them "an inspiration for fruitful dialogue, harmony and fraternal encounter between Churches, States and peoples."

The Pope remarked that during his time in North Macedonia, he felt the spiritual presence of St Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was from this country. He said that this "small, yet strong, woman was an image of the Church in that land: a small community that becomes a welcoming home where many can find rest."

Pope Francis went on to describe 'this particular moment of history' in Bulgaria, focusing on the thirty years after the end of the totalitarian regime that had imprisoned the country's 'liberty and initiatives'. He spoke of the effects of emigration in recent decades that have 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."

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 to close their eyes, hearts or hands "to those who knock at your door".

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."

Pope Francis had a meeting with young people from various religions. As he arrived, two young people offered him bread and salt—a traditional way to welcome an important guest. The Pontiff heard the testimony of a couple - a young Muslim woman and a young Catholic from the Byzantine rite. A group paid tribute to him with a traditional dance.

Pope Francis responded to a young Muslim woman who wanted to know if dreaming of a world with religious unity was dreaming too much. "I would like to say to you: dreaming is never too much. Even if you make mistakes, you can always get up and start over, for no one has the right to rob you of hope." He encouraged people to communicate with others in a personal face-to-face encounter, and not through impersonal mobile screens. We have entered into the digital age, but actually we know very little about communication. We are all 'connected,' but not really 'involved' with one another."

He urged the young to spend time with the elderly, listen to their stories, which may sometimes seem a bit unreal, but in fact are full of rich experiences, symbols of solutions that can be an antidote against all those who want to lock themselves up in the suffocating present, that drowns them with demands for alleged happiness. Not to dedicate time to the elderly is to be like a tree without roots.

Collated from Vatican News & Rome Reports