Upon his arrival in Sofia, Francis stressed the welcoming tradition of the Land of Roses, and its links to the memory of John XXIII and John Paul II. “Here,” Francis noted, “diversity, combined with respect for distinctive identities, is viewed as an opportunity, a source of enrichment, and not as a source of conflict.”
Sofia (AsiaNews) – Bulgaria is a land of encounter and coexistence between traditions and faiths, said Pope Francis, a bridge between southern and eastern Europe, the homeland of Cyril and Methodius, the brothers considered saints by both Catholics and Orthodox, proclaimed co-patrons of Europe by John Paul II, as evangelisers of the Slavic peoples.
The pontiff arrived in Sofia this morning. After meeting with Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, at the Presidential Palace, where the welcome ceremony was held (pictured), he addressed the authorities, representatives of civil society and the diplomatic corps.
“Blessed be Saints Cyril and Methodius, co-patrons of Europe! By their prayers, their genius and their joint apostolic efforts, they serve as an example for us and they continue to be, more than a millennium later, an inspiration for fruitful dialogue, harmony and fraternal encounter between Churches, States and peoples! May their radiant example raise up many followers in our own day and open up new paths of peace and concord!”
Francis noted that this country has a connection with the memory of John XXIII. Between 1925 and 1934, Mgr Roncalli, as he was then, was the first apostolic visitor and then delegate to the Land of the Roses. He “never ceased to feel deep gratitude and esteem for your nation, to the point that he once said that wherever he would go, his house would always be open to everyone, Catholic or Orthodox alike, who came as a brother or sister from Bulgaria.” Indeed, “Here, diversity, combined with respect for distinctive identities, is viewed as an opportunity, a source of enrichment, and not as a source of conflict.”
Nowadays, the pope added, “at this particular moment of history, thirty years after the end of the totalitarian regime that imprisoned its liberty and initiatives, Bulgaria faces the effects of the emigration in recent decades of over two million of her citizens in search of new opportunities for employment. At the same time, Bulgaria – like so many other countries of Europe – must deal with what can only be called a new winter: the demographic winter that has descended like a curtain of ice on a large part of Europe, the consequence of a diminished confidence in the future. The fall in the birth rate, combined with the intense flow of emigration, has led to the depopulation and abandonment of many villages and cities. In addition, Bulgaria confronts the phenomenon of those seeking to cross its borders in order to flee wars, conflicts or dire poverty, in the attempt to reach the wealthiest areas of Europe, there to find new opportunities in life or simply a safe refuge.
“Your country,” Francis said by way of conclusion, “has always distinguished itself as 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. The development of Bulgaria, including her economic and civil development, necessarily entails a recognition and enhancement of this specific trait. May this land, bordered by the great Danube River and by the shores of the Black Sea, rendered fruitful by the humble labour of so many generations, open to cultural and commercial exchanges, integrated in the European Union, and with solid links to Russia and Turkey, offer all her sons and daughters a future of hope.”